A second collection of stories, mostly set among the Catholics of Northern Ireland, by the Irish author of 1996’s Booing the Bishop (not reviewed). If things move along at the present rate, and Belfast succeeds in mutating from a political to a literary hot spot, Collins will probably be regarded as a single eminence in a worthy company. Which would be something of a shame, since he is worth attending to on his own. The characters in Collins’s stories are all recognizably Irish in both their origins and concerns, but—lacking the sentimental resentments of the brothers McCourt—they—ll appeal to more subtle tastes. Sickness and injury are the dominant motifs: “The Lump” tells of an infected wound, while the aptly entitled “Shame and Pain” describes a middle-aged husband’s humiliating efforts to keep his hemorrhoid surgeries secret from his wife, only to be presented by her with a far more momentous surprise in the end. The rapid collapse of domestic life becomes a metaphor of modern social decay in “Breaking the News,” about an elderly widower’s physical and emotional decline. “Unwinding in France” is a seriocomic account of a Winnebago holiday that nearly breaks up a family. The best piece, however, is the title story, about a divorced husband’s attempt to keep his daughter’s affection in the face of his ex-wife’s hatred—and the crisis that ensues when he is frustrated. Understated and strikingly narrated (“Not even a woman could get inside your body the way booze could”), it sets the pattern of quiet melancholy that the other tales elaborate on. Refreshing and unique: Collins provides a new take on familiar territory.