Nineteen stories, many with a Jewish flavor, that are terse Chekhovian impressions about disillusionment, failure, and loss. Except for some short-short toss-offs, they pay successful tribute to the human spirit. In the title story, the narrator, a substitute teacher who's about burned out, eavesdrops on two women in a subway, learning something that he takes back to his students. The piece is a textured homage to Chekhov, and such elegy becomes explicit in ""Chekhov at Badenweiler,"" an evocative account of the physician writer's last days filled with sweetly rendered pathos. ""Aaron"" is a longish saga about a man whose wife is a trial and tribulation; she's close to certifiably insane during her life, and dies after a great deal of suffering. Only after her death does Aaron start a new life with the ""countless widows"" who admire him for his lectures around the community. In ""Colleagues."" Martin Cohen, a journeyman scholar, gets a lull term off to do research, but he's not up to it and makes up stories to justify his inaction until his colleague helps him accept his ordinariness. ""This Time"" is a brier; moving story in which a man recovering from the loss of a lung to cancer meets a woman whose breasts have reel a similar fate--they become friends, ""eager and able to accept their power and grace."" ""Dealing,"" on the other hand, concerns two friends, Raymond and Larry, who have moved in opposite directions, forcing the impecunious Larry to offer his drawings to the yuppie Raymond, who is understanding but willing to buy only the best drawings. Finally, ""The Cinderella Kid"" is an affirmative portrait of a man who once threw 12 no-hitters before he lost his fastball. Though these pieces sometimes leave the reader wishing Roth had stretched himself a little further, they are quietly effective and mostly moving.