Uncharacteristically playful mix of stories from the late Japanese writer Dazai that celebrates quirky families and reinterprets old fairy tales. Known more for his dark, self-absorbed autobiographical fiction (Self-Portraits, 1991), Dazai was also an innovative stylist who experimented with narrative techniques that would both move and entertain--an ambition more than realized in these pieces, first published in the late 1930's and early 40's in Japan. The first and last--``On Love and Beauty'' and ``Lanterns of Romance''- -are stories-within-stories about a family with literary pretensions through whose veins ``flowed an uncommon romanticism.'' Wealthy, well-educated, and bored, the members while away their tedium by telling serial stories--with each section reflecting the temperament and interests of the respective narrators. In the first story, the five siblings take the confused and intellectually pompous beginning of the youngest son and turn it into a wry tale of an aging professor's illusions of happiness. The last section is an inventive interpretation of Rapunzel, interrupted by descriptions of the family's reactions and comments, especially those of the grandfather, who, ``plagued by a certain sense of guilt over his unorthodox behavior, had been making a concerted effort to get on the good side of everyone.'' The collection's title story is a reworking of an old Chinese legend in which an unhappily married man is shown true love by a magical crow. Other notables here--``The Chrysanthemum Spirit'' and ``the Mermaid and the Samurai''--are imaginative and gently humorous retellings of old fables in which, respectively, an obsessed gardener finds himself helped by a remarkable family; and death follows when a noble samurai's tale of a malevolent mermaid is not believed. A rare delight--stories in stylish prose that do both entertain and move.