Fifteen eclectic stories from prolific Matthews (Memoirs Of a Bookman, Ghostly Populations, etc.) that were originally published in various literary magazines. Some of the pieces are solid, several are throwaways--most concern violence or death that results in self-examination. ""Recurring Dreams"" is about a boy who works his way slowly to shooting his grandfather's dog and burying it before his grandparents return; the story effectively turns upon itself almost metafictionally to analyze the aftereffects of such an action. ""Critical Decisions of Early Years"" likewise deals with a narrator who is a fighter--a light heavyweight with a short career who took up boxing in college because he was ""invincible."" Years later, he ends up popping his ex-girlfriend, an action that is both inexplicable and just right for the character. In ""Begotten Spirits,"" a father dies, whereupon the son must listen to his aging mother describe the final hemorrhage before she presents him with a bloody copy of The Anatomy of Melancholy, which the son disposes of. These stories are centered on character, whereas several others are gimmicky but quirky enough to hold interest. ""The Girl on the Flagpole"" concerns ""The Only Woman Flag Polack Sitter in the World and her Acrophobic Husband""; ""The Branch Office in Prague,"" clever but passable slapstick, is Kafka's The Metamorphosis from the point of view of his employer, a branch manager faced with a personnel problem; ""Brumbacher's Breathing"" is smart-aleck writing about a slob whose death forces the executive narrator to take account of his own life: ""Don't ever mock a fool, because a fool's death is unanswerable."" After six novels and five other story collections, Matthews here settles for work that is tight at the seams but finally not quite satisfying.