The American debut collection of 17 interconnected stories, by a compassionate yet unsentimental writer from Ireland. These subtly motivated tales offer a rich impression of family life in rural Ireland during the 1950s, focusing on Connaughton, an undertaker, hotelier, victualler, and race-horse owner, and his sensitive, wide-eyed, idolizing son, Lally. In the title piece, a family drive in a new Fiat becomes a death-defying test of nerves; in ``The Funeral of Cannon Cross,'' a funeral cortäge, led by Connaughton, disintegrates into a farcical motor race; and in ``The View from College Hill,'' father and son take a terrifying air ride with a former war ace. What carries these stories are the author's detailed and insightful observations of his characters and their lives. In ``Clocking Ninety,'' Fanning, the local butcher, smells of ``hard, lardy carcass exteriors,'' and Barry, Connaughton's coffin-maker, wishes he were in his hearse instead of the Fiat: He prefers ``the glassed-off silence, the faint residue of pine, of life itself within the hearse''; in ``Spring Flowers,'' while Lally anxiously watches the belligerent struggle between his father and a farmer over the price of two heifers, he notes that ``heavy knuckles of dung scaled from [the heifers] tails so that every time one of them moved there was a noise like the rattle of rosary beads.'' When Lally discovers the pleasures of illicit drinking (in the 14th story, ``Whiskey When You're Sick Makes You Well . . .''), the author switches to a first-person narration, and the remaining stories shift in tone toward knowingness and even cynicism, indicating Lally's growing maturity, and yet they're no less keenly observed. An impressive debut, although in pieces so deftly drawn as these, the occasional ineptitude or hackneyed phrase (``The crowd stirred''; ``the man's amazement was uncontainable'') is only the more jarring.