Thirteen short pieces that, for the most part, trip wantonly over the surface of their material: marriages, divorces, relationships. Author of four volumes of poetry, Spivak tries here for a pared-down simplicity as a way toward the heart of things, but what gets simplified most of the time is the psychology itself rather than the portrayal of it. In ""Sleep,"" a divorced mother takes on a new man and thinks about how she ""could not tell him how. . .she had missed him. Or maybe not him, but a large male animal of similar size and comforting bulk."" With character and motivation as minimally conceived as they are in these pieces, the result often becomes the merely maudlin, as in ""The Guardian,"" where a woman tells her extraordinally shallow husband that, in the case of her death, he should marry (for the children's sake) the extroverted Scandinavian beauty he's enamored of. In an effort at Mediterranean pastorale that ends up merely ludicrous, a Greek peasant marries his donkey (""The Donkey""). Aimed-for satire may have been narrowly missed here, but the author's meager control of tone throughout stands in the way of close distinctions. Marked by careless writing (""Like a dog, she has her ears always up""); hasty platitudes (""Nancy was delighted to be pregnant""; ""Nancy seethed with emotion and confusion""; ""She would go through fire to be with him!""); and tone-deaf implausibilities (a scientist to his newly-pregnant mistress, in ""The Sacrifices"": ""Listen, Nance,. . .I am in a tough spot. I can't deal with this. It is too much for me. I don't care what you do. You work it out any way you want"")--these are stories that struggle for substance. Notably weak.