Though up to a third of this collection is slight--some disappointingly obvious stories, some in which one character merely recounts an odd tale to another--the largest portion shows off Berriault (The Son, The Descent) as a bending, searching, and moving writer of the short form. On display here is Berriault's gift for the perceptive toss-away: ""She began to laugh, her teeth springing forward handsomely, her sloping shoulders shaking. After a moment her laughter lost its erudition and became simpler."" Here, too, are her investigations of emotional states well beyond the ordinary: in ""Death of a Lesser Man,"" terminal illness infects everyone involved with a plague of imagination--like a balloon which is filled with a startling, quick whoosh; in ""The Stone Boy,"" the title figure accidentally kills his brother, then takes too much of a while, an inexcusable and stupefying interval, to show his genuine fear and remorse (Berriault touches special levels of pity here); and in ""Sublime Child,"" a young woman is unable to get on with gauging the depths of separateness in life because of her attachment to her dead mother's married lover. Still, as good as these pieces are, what Berriault is perhaps best at capturing is the bitter, flamboyant, and pained talk of women in extremity--women who leave their men of an evening and go alone to a bar (only to sit), women who will terrify a babysitter with an uncalled-for exposure of their anguish; in such stories Berriault makes you sit up, electrified. And so, even if the overall quality of this collection is uneven, there are enough standouts to command attention--and to make a sharp, powerful, distinctive impression.