Compared with the stories in The Aleph (1970), also translated by Norman Thomas de Giovanni in collaboration with the author, this collection is almost pragmatic. ""I have done my best,"" Borges opens, ""to write straightforward stories"" -- in the manner of late Kipling, whom he admires above Kafka and James -- but ""I do not dare state that they are simple; there isn't anywhere on earth a single page or a single word that is. . ."" And so, through recitations that are nothing if not fastidiously direct, he merely suggests the occultism and the mazes of mystic and psychic possibility that remain his real subjects. A few of these are sheer gothic -- ""The Gospel According to Mark,"" for example -- and while they may seem heavy-handed coming from Borges, the development is exquisite; more characteristically reserved pieces like ""The End of the Duel,"" ""Guayaquil,"" and ""Juan Murana"" hint at a curse-like aspect of history, but because their ambiguities are relatively simple they are the least effective -- that is to say they can be comfortably appreciated. The best of these, say ""The Intruder"" and ""The Meeting,"" have an utterly different impact: enormous latent darknesses loom through their matter-of-fact exposition and the reader is left to find order for himself. As experiences they quite outdo the overt metaphysical shockers of the preceding volume.