From the prolific and accomplished Connell (Son of the Morning Star, Mrs. Bridge), a worthy compendium of 56 stories--13 new, 14 previously uncollected, and 29 from three earlier collections: The Anatomy Lesson (1957), At the Crossroads (1965), and St. Augustine's Pigeon (1980). ""Life is, after all, the study of contradictions."" So says the narrator of ""Au Lapin Gros,"" a new story with a typical Connell hero--a too-smart but unambitious middle-aged outsider and cynic dissatisfied with his life choices. Here (as in many of the other tales), Connell's hero weaves through an ever-shifting world of contradictions. The narrator is drawn to a large Greek woman in a Paris cafe; she could be a bomb-throwing revolutionary or a madwoman, or possibly both--it doesn't matter. He doesn't care what she's revolting against--he just loves her big feet and will do anything for her. In ""Hooker,"" recurring antihero Koerner stumbles on a former one-night stand. After she disappears, he wanders San Francisco interrogating anyone who might know the many-aliased enchantress, with all telling him different life-histories of the chameleon-like creature. In these new pieces, Connell is at his acerbic, biting best, often capturing mercilessly the grotesque and the small-mindedness in average bourgeois Americans. In ""Acedia,"" for instance, Koerner, suffering from the medieval condition of sloth, is dragged by friends to a freakish party where he wallows in its horribleness. And in ""A Cottage near Twin Falls,"" a successful writer is persuaded to leave his seclusion to go to a cocktail party where he suffers through an endless barrage of inane questions. Some of the earlier stories seem a bit writerly or sketchy, but the whole sparkles with Connell's learnedness, sharp wit, and spare, concise prose. A top collection.