A fine new collection of 12 stories notable for their verbal wit and range of intellectual reference—the third such from the highly praised author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994) and Like Life (1990). Moore’s most typical characters are women in retreat from disappointing relationships or in search of someone or thing to relieve their solitude. One example is the eponymous protagonist of “Agnes of Iowa,” an unhappily married night- school teacher whose longing “to be a citizen of the globe!” is not assuaged by her brief encounter with a visiting South African poet. Another is the “minor movie star” of “Willing,” whose involvement with an auto mechanic can—t repair the unbridgeable distance she’s put between herself and other people. Or, in a practically perfect little story (neatly titled “Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens”), there’s the housewife who mourns her dead cat, is chastened by her husband’s understandable exasperation, yet is still gripped by “the mystery of interspecies love.— Moore writes knowingly about family members who tiptoe warily around the edges of loving one another (“Charades”), who discover vulnerability where they had previously seen only dispassionate strength (“Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People”), or who learn to live, say, with the possibility of a baby dying (“People Like That Are the Only People Here”). Though her characters are likeably tough-minded and funny (who wouldn’t want to cry “Fie!” in a crowded theater where Forrest Gump is playing?), they invariably manifest a feeling that life is passing too quickly and that we haven’t made all the necessary arrangements. Accordingly, her hip, jokey mode is less affecting than her wistful, how-the-hell-did-I-end-up-here one. In Moore’s skillful hands, a new home owner pestered by squirrels in the attic and a modest woman subjected to a pelvic exam by a roomful of medical students are altogether credible contemporary Cassandras and Medeas. She’s an original, and she’s getting better with every book.