A first collection from the American-born author (who now lives in Vienna) of eight previous novels, including such highly praised fantasy work as The Land of Laughs (1980) and A Child Across the Sky (1990). The volume, previously published in Great Britain, where it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, is a mixed bag. Carroll at his best explores the psychological and social consequences of ``impossible'' situations (an ``imaginary friend'' who comes to life when his playmate reaches adulthood, a house that ``remembers'' its former occupants) with a deadpan clarity that's reminiscent less of any contemporary writers than such past masters of the genre as Saki and John Collier. He has a real gift for seductive titles (``The Sadness of Detail,'' ``The Dead Love You''), arresting opening sentences (``The first thing Beizer did after hearing he was going blind was to buy a camera''), and comically arbitrary details (a rock group named ``Rattlesnake Orgasm,'' a taking dog that's said to have a voice ``kind of like Paul McCartney''). But though his stories often sparkle with crisp dialogue, their wit is frequently vitiated by colorless narrative prose and the imperfect development of some sketchy premises. The real gems here include two novellas: ``Uh-Oh City,'' in which an academic couple's energetic housekeeper turns out to be God (or at least an aspect of Him) and ``Black Cocktail,'' a strange tale of symbiosis and conflict spun from the notion (well concealed till late in the story) of how a human soul is constructed and what this implies about the nature of friendship and sexual attraction. Best of all is the story ``Friend's Best Man'' (winner of a World Fantasy Award), about an amputee's bewildered relationship with a dying girl and a dog that can predict the future. Carroll's weaker stories are slight and uninvolving, but his best are among the finest fantasies being written today.