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.