By the English author of The Italian Lesson (1987), Dr. Gruber's Daughter (1988), and many others, 23 brief stories that again sound Elliott's playful-to-melancholy involvement with metaphysical matters, such as the various faces of time and identity, reality and fiction--tales in which ""one world nudges another."" Elliott's characters--worrying storytellers, isolates dropping like stones through warm domestic waters, aesthetes hunting perfection, etc.--riffle through identities and landscapes, real or imagined, like playing cards. In ""Silence,"" a woman burrows inside imagined lives until a malevolent reality hits her isolating window. In ""Figments,"" a fictional daughter's life pulses along near her writer/mother until the writer ends the world. Other pieces deal with final wastelands. In ""No Man's Land,"" a couple exists in ""the last hotel"" in the Middle East, as sands and history lap in waves until the last light blinks out. Message looms heavily over the title story, in which a man digs a hole--for no reason--and it becomes a pit of death and malice or maybe a pond (""you could make anything you like of it""), while captive animals in the nearby zoo make ""moans of complaint...and wild laughter."" Then there are the perfection seekers: one love affair is at an end because the lover, instead of dying beautifully, was run over by a bus. In ""The Perfectionist,"" an exquisite spouse redeems the perfect marriage by having a rare ""collector's piece"" of a disease. There are also wry, amusing tales of dropouts who simply take to bed: one has a brief, fruitful run as a saint; another makes a killing on his journal. Perhaps the most wicked story concerns ""The Interior of Henry""--an interior designer, bent on matching interiors to the client, finds one man's true vocation. In ""Body and Soul,"" two fat gourmets strive for marital equilibrium. Beautifully styled, fanciful stories, a shade bloodless but certainly entertaining.