A collection of 12 well-crafted stories, almost always somber, in which characters suffer through familiar crises--divorce, the death of a loved one--to earn a moment of redemption or lucidity. In the title piece, Marion, isolated even from her children after her husband Malcolm leaves her (she's put him through graduate school), begins to notice quirky, anonymous women who walk alone through her campus neighborhood--and her observations help her live through the commonplace anquish of separation until she glimpses the possibility of a new life. In the painful "Breathing Space," Claire, divorced, is trying both to satisfy her lover Victor and to help her suicidal daughter Lucy by sending her across the Bay to a special school, but an unhealthy symbiosis between mother and daughter is never broken. "Homecoming" brings together two estranged sisters at the death of their mother, and their rapprochement is sudden and unsentimental; "Lousy Moments" is about conflict in a creative-writing class; in the chilling "One Man's Poison," Lucy is reunited for an evening with her former fiancÇ (and former drunk) Carter Frame, who has cured himself by becoming a kind of benovolent vampire--one who hangs around at Bellevue to watch them bring in the drunks; and "Waiting" concerns the faith and dying that takes place in a hospital waiting room. Though in places these stories become predictable or develop in familiar, even derivative, ways, they're nonetheless moving accounts about ordinary people--and manage to do what good fiction must do: surprise us with language that is precisely faithful to character and even revelatory at times.