Francis' stories are an acquired taste--with readers required to overlook or get past a clutch of irritating mannerisms. There are verbal tics galore. There's a tendency towards confusing, skein-like overwriting: ""His fingers and her own raged, his breath became hers the instant he entered her heart, in her thighs--and she cried softly, but more in the hands now part of his flesh; but they left him and reached the air when she felt the white burn of stars pierce her flesh till only yesyesyes throbbed through her. . . ."" And there are Francis' pretentiously episcopal pronouncements. (""She loved the great white house, the space which the long line of Gibbons had allotted to Nate, if not really to her, though all the years she felt the harry and hazard of bearing the name, for the soul received its own kinds of brands."") Still, if one can somehow reach beyond this dismaying veil of literary busyness, there are affecting stories here--with a sharp local intelligence (port towns along the Long Island Sound) and an apparently personal, indelible emblem: a man horribly burned in a fishing-boat mishap, living his painful subsequent life in bandages, unable to eat (burned esophagus), his survival testing the limits of self-disgust and family love. True, this potent material is hard to glimpse at first; yet it is there, impressive and manifold, for those doughty enough to pull back all the precious webbing around it.