More entertaining, offbeat fiction from a proven master of domestic whimsy--author of eight novels and one other story collection (Women and Children First, 1988). Like a promising jazz invention, this 11-tale collection starts loose and cool with ``Talking Dog,'' in which a young woman tells how her dramatic older sister wielded undeserved emotional power over others, even after her death; then warms up with ``Cauliflower Heads,'' whose heroine, an American newlywed in Italy, acknowledges that her marriage to a radioactive-waste- disposal expert is a serious mistake; and hits its stride with ``Rubber Life,'' in which a library employee's obsession with a local artist turns to unexpected relief and laughter when a ghost- child ends the affair. As each of the remaining eight stories follows, Prose's intimate, confiding, subtly urgent narrative voice invites the reader ever deeper into the land of children's birthday parties, art museums, shopping malls, and outdoor weddings where her suburban-loner characters' sudden, quirky epiphanies take place. One of the best and most tightly honed tales is ``Amateur Voodoo,'' in which a son's search for his lost cat brings his parents together with his father's former lover for an uneasy cup of tea; in ``Potato World,'' even a teenager's phenomenally botched summer romance turns out to matter less than expected in the universal scheme of things; and in the final tale, ``Hansel and Gretel,'' Prose's delight in exposing the deadly sins that lurk beneath the surface of suburban ennui reaches its memorable peak. Prose--a master at maintaining a sense of the homogenized texture of American life while celebrating each individual's peculiar experience within it--works these tales of infidelity, envy, fear, and garden-variety confusion into a bright and memorable melody.