Atwood (Life Before Man, Bodily Harm, The Handmaid's Tale, etc.) here adds two new stories to a collection first published in her native Canada in 1983. Together, these 12 lackluster tales give little indication of her proven talents as novelist and poet. If the dullness seems uncharacteristic, little else is. Atwood peoples her stories with familiar types--artists, political activists, middle-aged professionals, housewives--and subjects them to the vicissitudes of contemporary domestic relationships. In "Loulou; or, The Domestic Life of the Language," the earth-mother of the title, a productive potter by trade, supports a houseful of male poets, all of whom were either her lover or husband at one time or another, and none of whom seems to respect her for much more than her willingness to look after them. "Uglypuss" pokes fun at the efforts of a radical couple to maintain a politically correct approach to modern love. Other stories concern marriages that are either fragile ("Scarlet Ibis"), foundering (the title piece), or undergoing redefinition ("The Salt Garden"). "Two Stories About Emma" profiles a courageous woman who fancies herself invulnerable, while "The Sunrise" proves that another woman's "slightly weird behavior"--she's an artist who approaches strange men on the street to pose for her--barely compensates for a life without love. The best story, "Spring Song of the Frogs," follows Will, a fellow who's "not very good at relationships," and who manages to bring out the anorexic in a number of women, including a niece who's hospitalized for not eating and an old girlfriend who sneaks off to purge a romantic dinner. Four anecdotal pieces, full of "significant moments," record memories of the narrator's parents and provide some fascinating glimpses into Canadian provincial life. Through most of Atwood's undistinguished second collection of short fiction runs her feminist sense of angst and alienation; occasional stabs at mitigating humor mostly miss their mark.