This first American collection of Canadian novelist Cohen's stories separates into two camps: the edgily realistic--Jewish or literary Toronto today--or the smoked-glass pseudo-allegorical: Christopher Columbus as a sideshow attraction, a barren Kafka simulacrum, a schematic rendition of the life of Chekhov. The realism is more successful. In ""The Hanged Man,"" a black English painter and his white wife move to Ontario, into a large suburban house previously owned, the painter discovers, by a man who strung himself up from the hall chandelier. Up till then clogged creatively, the painter is freed by the menace of this image; his work gets scary and secret, which in turn shakes the lulled marriage alive. This is Cohen's most resonant story, but even here his methods are more willful than graceful: why is the painter black, but for the fact that it jazzes up the situation? Too many of these stories feature similar complications, unearned, thrown in by fiat. Cohen seems to be gauging himself at every turn, finding that he doesn't quite have enough, and then bailing himself out with a facile twist or ""weird"" situation. Close, but no cigar.