A mixed bag of stories from the author of the novels Out of the Blue (1983) and Chin Music (1985); punk pyrotechnics and flashy pretension and--every now and then--something quite real and moving. Much of the short fiction here (and some of it's quite short: 2 or 3 pages) first appeared in literary quarterlies and suffers from coy obscurity, near-rampant use of the historic present, and characters whose boringly empty lives are described in boring, empty ways (""Bob takes a cab out to Midway to make sure that Linda's new doeskin gym bag isn't still circling around on the American luggage carrier. It isn't.""). Of the shorter pieces, the worst offenders are ""The Wrong Kind of Insurance,"" ""Unclothed Singularities,"" ""Young Seventh-World Women,"" and a derivative little Borgesesque story entitled ""The Eye of Hunan."" The exception--and it's a wonderful one--is ""Autoclysm,"" the brief tale of a losing, disliked poker player who forces one final hand and because of this is killed on the way home in a car accident; the other characters' deadpan responses to his fate are beautifully described, and McManus has a perfect ear for a bunch of guys sitting around talking: ""It's been real,"" said Carl, getting up, ""and it's been nice. It's just that it wasn't real nice."" Of the longer stories, ""Rotation"" (a proper young man is stricken with kleptomania in Marshall Field's) and ""Ante Meridien"" (a busy-morning-in-the-life of a single mother with a diabetic child) are little more than competent literary exercises. ""Ithaca"" (nuclear holocaust comes to Chicago) is a chapter from Chin Music and makes little sense here on its own. But ""Picasso"" is a gem--a deeply felt, marvelously evocative short story about a young parochial-school boy's first sexual experience. A couple of strong stories, then, that bode well for the future, but not enough for this book.