Nine dense, sorrowful, elegiac stories set (mainly) in the wilds of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where strong-willed Scottish lobstermen and farmers reflect on their lives and their neighbors' before they (mostly) pine and die, by the 1987 winner of the Editors' Book Award ""for overlooked manuscripts of enduring value."" The narrator of two central stories is an up-anchored middle-aged drifter, alternately an intellectual and a construction worker, whose family moved from Cape Breton to the shores of Lake Erie to work as shipmates but whose fragile sense of belonging hearkens back to summer memories of the sea and woods around Cape Breton. In ""The Chinese Rifle,"" he's been fired from his job as a book editor in Boston and visits a much-admired cousin whom he hasn't seen since the cousin returned from a heroic tour of duty in Korea; now the cousin, like the narrator, is suffering from a diminution of expectations--in fact, has a crippled son on the verge of committing suicide. In the beautifully written ""Sailing,"" the narrator's 80-year-old father pays a final visit to his son in California before returning to Canada to die; together they puzzle over what the old man's flickering life has meant. Other stories render small, epiphanies in Cape Bretonners' lives: an elderly spinster, having buried her adored brother the week before, spends an evening drinking the rum that killed him (""Holy Annie""); a lobsterman who lost his cherished nine-year-old son in a schoolhouse accident briefly doubts God when a young reverend who could have been his son is knifed to death (""The Flowers of Bermuda""). In the title story, a middle-aged painter moves with his young wife from Boston to a remote Nova Scotia seaside farm; when his wife leaves him, he's stranded with a witchlike elderly tenant who heals his injured eye and teaches him a lesson in the fearful pleasures of being utterly alone. Men's stories--grim, complex, lyrical, and mournful--that yearn for a sterner place and time and find it--almost gone.