Short stories of broke, drink-sodden Scottish youths in various states of distress: a powerful first book by a furiously talented 27-year-old writer. McLean pumps underclass rage and considerable sensitivity through his fairly interchangeable Edinburgh characters, all in their 20s and 30s. His sensibility is dark, very male, and filled with an anger that borders on the irrational--but it's an anger that seems to be born from a head-on understanding of social injustice. All 23 stories--some no longer than a paragraph, some 30 pages long--bear remarkable titles (``Loaves and Fishes, Nah,'' ``A/deen Soccer Thugs Kill All Visiting Fans,'' ``Dying and Being Alive''). They also have deep-hook openings, such as this from ``Cold Kebab Breakfast'': ``They came home from the pub to find their flat had been fucking done over.'' This fiction staggers gracefully along through small, indecisive events and unresolved circumstances: bad jobs or no jobs, fights started to make something happen, cranked-up soccer fans igniting friction at close quarters in dank, grimy pubs, eating curry take-out and having indigestion; men and women trying to determine if they're capable of love while savaging or sexing each other. Over all these little disturbances hover subtle threats of Edinburgh's twin menaces--HIV and heroin. Like Thom Jones's work (both writers, incidentally, were janitors before publishing books), McLean's stories imply a quickened, redemptive understanding of human behavior through dialogue that feels unspeakably sad. Raw, realistic blasts of street-level life--like a drinker's strong breath in your face, but a grudging sentimentality lies underneath the explosive, punk language. A strong, self-assured debut.