A brilliant collection of ten replete portrayals of family life, from an emerging storyteller (A Hole in the Language, 1990) whose generous command of the depth and range of her characters' lives suggests an American Alice Munro in the making. Marriage, parenthood, separation, and the desolating variety of loss are the emotional coordinates of Swick's fictional territorywhose geographic polarities are Nebraska and southern California. Her people, all unhinged by the miscellaneous pressures of relationship, include a divorcÇe (``The Other Widow'') surreptitiously mourning the sudden death of her married lover, teenage sisters who (in the title story) expertly play their estranged parents against each other, and a rootless twentysomething (in ``Moscow Nights'') who's just been dumped by his girlfriend and who's drawn into reluctant complicity with his divorced mother's adventurous new lifestyle (including her abortion). Swick's characters brood guiltily over their own failings; many, like ``The Prodigal Father,'' eerily envision the worst that lies ahead of the messes they've made of their lives. Nevertheless, her stories crackle with crisp, witty metaphors and observations (``she feels like some character in a soap opera, only not as well-dressed''). Her men are every bit as convincing and winning as her women. In ``The Still Point,'' a frustrated wife ditches her luckless failure of a husband, a ``repeat victim'' whose espousal of Zen Buddhism leads the story in several surprising directions. In ``Crete,'' a college teacher whose untroubled life contrasts sharply with his wife's history of violence and loss, is brought to a totally unexpected point of empathy with the sensibility he has never managed to share. And in the nerve-racking ``Sleeping Dogs,'' Swick's most ingeniously plotted story, a frightened husband and father discovers that his character failings endanger the family he now knows he loves above all else. Swick's richly composed stories appear frequently in The Atlantic and the quarterlies. One of our most visible storytellers, she is rapidly becoming one of our best.