A second collection from Giles (after Rough Translations, 1985) evokes the bitter quality of declining lives in terse—and ultimately depressing—tales. The suppressed resentment between former mates is a favorite underlying theme of this San Francisco writer's work, and her characters' sour, often self-righteous anger is evident right at the start. In ``War,'' a cynical ex-wife returning from a political meeting in Nicaragua notes the many ways her ex-husband has left his ugly mark on her house and daughter in her absence, and mocks the televised accounts of what's happening in Nicaragua with equivalent rage. In ``Leaving the Colonel,'' a housewife tells an imaginary TV interviewer exactly how she will abandon her neglectful husband. Leaving divorce behind, the tone turns weird in ``Talking to Strangers,'' in which the ghost of a murdered woman describes her ambush and dismemberment beside a hiking trail; a woman in ``The Writer's Model'' answers the tedious and puerile questions of a circle of nosy male authors, but gives up when a curious Martian shows up. In the intriguing tale ``Smoke and Mirrors,'' the heroine considers an affair with the brooding husband of a friend. The collection concludes with several complex, textured, moving explorations of grief and other sadnesses. ``Creek Walk'' describes a woman mourning her mother's death. In the angry ``Maximum Security,'' a divorced and financially strapped mom fails to get the promotion she needs. The best tale is, perhaps, the last. ``Untitled'' features a creative writing instructor bidding good-bye to her current group of students, knowing that her teaching contract has not been renewed. Here, at least, the heroine's bittersweet reflections exhibit some nuance. Often heavy-handed, but original as well: Giles's stories don't make a pretty picture, but often they do offer a convincing one.