The Argentine novelist (The Lizard's Tail, 1983) and short-story writer here selects 18 stories from two previous collections published in English translation, Clara and Strange Things Happen Here, and adds 14 stories published in Spanish in 1983 and now appearing for the first time in English. Valenzuela's enigmatic fables, lyrical and lush as they are, also seem at times sadly lifeless and ridiculously abstract. As Kirkus said of the short pieces in Clara (1976), ""they're no more than thunderclaps of the imagination."" The new stories exhibit the same fascination with the macabre and the magical, and also with bizarre sexuality (more strange hermaphrodism in ""Legend of a Self Sufficient Child""). Two stories in particular, both of them reminiscent of Zen parables (""Abundant Impediments Float Downriver"" and ""The Attainment of Knowledge"") provide interpretive clues to Valenzuela's metaphysical narratives. In the first, the residents of a small village watch the flowing river and the ""messages"" in the flotsam, but their efforts at enlightenment result in a dangerous flood, forcing them to chose between understanding and life, plain and simple. In the latter, an old sorceress inhabits an island where she reinvents fire, but those on shore cannot ""decypher her message"" in the smoke signals. Especially difficult pieces include the symbolic dramas of a beautiful girl who shows up in the marketplace, where merchants first ply her with gifts, then strangle her (""Flea Market""); of a drifter, stoned by people everywhere, who brings life to a ghost town, and is worshipped as a god by local Indians (""The Redtown Chronicles""); of a photographer who lives high up among a people who never age, while she tries to capture time in her self-portraits (""Up Among the Eagles""); and of a blue man, dressed in blue, who controls the town's water supply (""Blue Water Man""). Among the most accessible tales are those with more overt political meanings, including one about a fellow listening to the police raid on the next-door apartment. In ""The Censors""--perhaps the most satisfying new story in this collection--a reckless missive leads a young man to become a censor in order to intercept his letter; victim of his new willingness to victimize, he's of course sentenced to death for his subversion. Demanding, if at times inpenetrable, stuff.