Novelist and short-story writer Flanagan retains her acerbic tone and dark vision in this second collection (after Bad Girls, 1985), with results alternately incisive and blunt. An ``ages of woman'' theme loosely binds these diverse tales, whose female protagonists range from terrified children to old ladies on the lam. The stronger offerings turn an expatriate American's cold gaze on English xenophobia. In ``Mrs. Tiggywiggle Goes to Town,'' for example, a struggling single mother resents her best friend, Alison, a normally kindly, upper-middle-class homemaker who nevertheless later cracks and assaults a Pakistani mother and child. ``The Octopus Vase'' shows English homebuyers virtually destroying both a Greek island and an idealistic woman-- in a genteel way, of course. Racism mingles with misogyny in the title story when an English editor rants against ``yobs'' in a Greek cafe, then turns his venom on his young lover: ``You'll sit in cafes, wrinkled and ridiculous and menopausal.'' Professional men come off poorly, from the abusive husband of ``When I'm Bad'' to a slick urbanite who treats a young drifter to a chic restaurant meal in ``Alice's Ear'' (that severed appendage is found the next morning in the park). Despite a flair for dialogue and visual detail, Flanagan often fails to make her emotional landscape convincing. ``Bye-Bye, Blackbird'' closes with a genteel Mrs. Dallowayesque character, forsaken by children and a male friend, on her knees in garden mud, trying to rescue a wounded bird from a tomcat. Here and elsewhere, though, the victim is treated dismissively--where she seeks to be dispassionate, the author seems instead to abandon empathy. It's as if Flanagan is in a hurry, trying to let extremity in situation or detail--a purple wedding dress, say--substitute for emotional resonance. A readable collection that chooses sensation over depth.