Twenty slight, acerbic stories in which middle-class Chicagoans--old, young, gay, married, parents of children and grown children themselves--search for slender proof that they're loved. Written by a poet who's also the author of Plain Grief (1991), etc. In the first half, Chernoff's imagination tends to be ironic, even sour, rather than intimate or empathetic. In the opening story, ``Jury Duty,'' ``I'' am a writer who bases a character on a lesbian acquaintance who's decided to get pregnant; and I'm so irritated when her life diverges from my story that I resolve to rewrite the story and have her murdered by her lover. In ``The Stockholm Syndrome,'' my old friend, a 60-year-old widow ``with one breast, a woman anyone would call matronly,'' runs away with a man she's met on vacation, leaving her house to her staid, slothful son and his new gay lover. In ``Keys,'' another of my 60-something widowed friends is dying of cancer but isn't on speaking terms with her daughter and grandson, her only living relatives--so when she wins a cheap prize of a stuffed elephant, she asks me to give it to her grandson, but not before telling me a mean, minimal story about her daughter's taste in keychains. And in the title story, a wife having an affair decides to tell her husband (also having an affair) that she knows of his affair and doesn't care--that is, unless the husband responds by telling her she's generous, in which case ``I'll ask him to leave. If he knows enough to be quiet, maybe I'll let him stay.'' In later stories, affections are slightly more developed in the texture of real life and less emblematic and tart, but still--as in ``Kabuki Everything,'' the best piece here, about two friends comforting each other--they are ruled by quirks and random happenstance. A dry, somewhat academic sensibility is at work here--one that will probably not be to every reader's taste.