An improbably charming collection of 28 brief tales about the last days of the Soviet Union, from a contemporary storyteller who seems to have appropriated the raffish comic spirit of Russia's famed chronicler of small-town amorality and mayhem, the late Mikhail Zoshchenko. Popov's characters are mostly adulterous or warring spouses, suicidal bureaucrats or peasants, and self-justifying drunks--and none of them provides anything less than raucous good company. The standouts among these delightfully fractious fictions include the ingeniously plotted account of the redemption of a worthless ""young boozer"" (""Miracles in a Jacket"") and a story of marital unhappiness raised (in ""Mountains"") to an almost Olympian farcical-grotesque level. But none are to be missed. An extremely entertaining book.