A debut collection of 13 stories, most of them portraying the unhappy domestic life of contemporary Americans. Brown seems to have set out to reverse Tolstoy’s famous dictum by offering us a group of unhappy families that appear remarkably similar, at least from the outside. Mad or terminally ill mothers predominate, as do drug-addicted children going through detox, and Vietnam vets who never quite pulled themselves together. “Thief” is a young man’s recollections of his adolescence, during which he responded to the trauma of a mother’s mental illness through kleptomania—even going so far as to steal presents in order to impress girls. “Animal Stories” is also a son’s account, this one being the reminiscence of his mother’s death of a brain tumor in the summer of 1972. In “Dog Lover,” a heroin addict and his blind Vietnam vet father—both haunted by the death of the mother and wife who killed herself years ago—argue religion and live unhappily together amid a litter of puppies being raised by the son. “Detox” portrays life inside a county detoxification center where one of the inmates plots an escape. “The Coroner’s Report” describes the daily routines of a county coroner as he trains a new employee in the art of informing survivors of the deaths of their loved ones, while the title piece relates the experiences of an ambulance driver who delivers human organs to hospitals in time (he hopes) for successful transplant operations. “The Sadness of the Body” proceeds in a somewhat more postmodern vein, examining in mock-medical terminology (—The spleen suffers from terminally low self- esteem. It refuses to talk to the rest of the body—) the physiology of an alcoholic Vietnam vet who, back in 1968, “was in charge of the body count.” New wine that needs aging: overwritten, ponderous, and crammed with the sorts of platitudes (—It seems that what we know makes us sad and what we don—t know is who we are—) that only undergraduates could find profound.