West's taste for purple prose has been manifest (and cheerfully and intelligently self-admitted) for years. In shorter forms (Rat Man of Paris, Caliban's Filibuster, among others), this taste for verbal pryotechnics--that phosphorescence--is so concentrated that it's all you see. Such is very much the case here. While there are stories that seem conventional (the most so is ""How to Marry a Hummingbird""--a Florida's wife's discontent, lurking danger), all gnaw at vocabulary as though it were reality itself. And you suspect that for West it is. A lot of the pieces--too many--seem excuses for investing atomized existences or macrocosms with rich style: ""Life With Atlas,"" ""Brain Cell 9,999,999,999,"" and the title story all use semi-sci-fi techniques to give the mysteries of physics or myth a voice. The voice, though, is usually West's swarming one--and a reader who feels backed into a corner by it, at not-pleasant disadvantage, will probably have lots of company. Leaning, busy, educated, playful, rich, West's prose is all these--but above all it's relentless, and the onslaught can be a little off-putting.