In four dark novellas (translated, inexplicably but with the author's blessing, from the French rather than the original Rumanian texts), Manea's absurdist, Kafkaesque sensibility (October, Eight O'Clock; On Clowns--both 1992) again lances and lacerates the cockeyed society of his homeland during the viciously repressive Ceauescu regime. Setting a macabre tone, the first story, ``The Interrogation,'' details the psychological trials an imprisoned woman goes through as she's forced to inform on her friends: her final encounter with the chief interrogator proves bizarre and nightmarish when he reveals himself over the course of a long night to be as neurotic and allergic as he is sinister. No less insidious is ``Composite Biography,'' in which office politics combine with political pasts, with a stranger pursuing a mysterious course of action while working among the national bank's accounting staff. Most compelling, though, is the final novella--``The Trenchcoat''- -in which the lines of social conduct are so tightly drawn that the inexplicable appearance of an extra overcoat after a dinner party is enough to send the hostess round the bend. Terror and black humor weave together chillingly in each tale, but the bleakness of the social landscape is mirrored by the emptiness of the characters themselves to such a degree that the ensuing nihilism is almost more self-defeating than revealing. Shrewd social insights filtered through a coldly abstracting, largely negative gaze: food for thought, but many will find the taste an acquired one.