Four of these stories (two are novellas) are set in a nightmare of Manhattan at its scabrous worst and the protagonists are either at the rim of madness or charred defeat. Each attempts to make sense of the shattered remnants of an unpleasant reality. But ""meaning""--via music, magic, sex, or violence--curls at the edges with dreams, bad dreams. A gun won't go off; machines possess; corpses walk. In the title tale, told by an old Jewish musician--from Alt Wien--a frail quintet playing at a tiny restaurant are terrorized along with a handful of helpless others by two Puerto Rican hopheads. Their ordeal, narrated in the burlesqued diction of a withered culture, mocks the journey of holocaust survivors as a hood named Jesus waves from his escape helicopter. A middle-aged woman, knowing ""we have to kill everything that gives us an argument,"" tries to shoot the president. A young girl is given the gift of prophesy at the price of becoming a machine; a scholar and a teacher both find that the intellect will cede to folk memory or lust or love. These are ornately clever, unsettling tales--sometimes obscure and then again familiar in outline--of a dream-chaos fusing and dissolving.