Italian novelist Parise's stories, all quite brief and each titled categorically (""Happiness,"" ""Poverty,"" ""Sex,"" ""Marriage,"" ""Fear,"" etc.), seem like lightning-fast raids on the human predicament: there are no substantial plot developments and no didactic messages--yet each piece basically embodies a completed cycle of aspiration and shortfall. And the tone of Parise's narration is at once empyrean and unconcerned, even condescending. The best story is ""War,"" about a young Italian fascist, a dandy-ish Black Shirt (hardly more than a boy) who is executed by his own comrades for theft--despite the fact that the youth, feeling protected and privileged, remains sure that his comrades are only joking; here the terseness of Parise's style, the sense of a closing-fast margin, works well, conveying the idea that destiny is moving more swiftly than belief. . . which will never be able to catch up. ""Marriage,"" too, is effective: an Italian tourist in the Soviet Union falls in with a Russian woman who wants an exit visa through marriage--and their mutual mistakenness, the crossed assumptions, are both amusing and sad. But the dozens of other pieces in this collection display little understanding of these delayed or crossed understandings; rather, Parise's floating people hover over their futilities rather separately--and the narrator's jaded lack of generosity in conveying this is hardly pleasurable or even very impressive. Studied, chilly work.