Seven stories (six previously unpublished) reveal a wide range of gay lives in America, from those of southern small-town outcasts to those of San Francisco sophisticates. But despite the range, this latest collection from the author of Identity and Difference (1990), etc., proves only fitfully satisfying. The sorrows of loners and the redemptive power of music are threaded through Weltner's tales. In the title piece, a young man living an unremarkable life in a newly prosperous southern town is drawn out of his meager existence by music. Need for a car brings him into contact with another loner, a gifted mechanic with a passion for Mahler whose garage is about to be bulldozed to make way for a mall, and both the music and the man bring him closer to understanding himself. In ``Buddy Loves Jo Ann,'' another outsider, a dejected old man, is asked by his only friend, whom he's known since childhood, to help her end her suffering. He loses his nerve and flees to a rundown seaside resort, where he's saved from drowning himself by a gruff, tattooed cook who gives him shelter, the money to return home, and a meaningful kiss goodbye. City scenes range from the bars in New Orleans in ``Unlike Himself,'' where a hustling hunk tangles with a repressed professor of literature, each giving the other something terrible yet liberating, to the apartments of gay San Francisco, where the sudden death of a record store owner in ``The Greek Head'' sends the owner's longtime companion into a funk--a funk compounded by the deceased having willed his most prized possession to a downstairs neighbor. So motley a crew of characters, with all too human failings, are both a strength and a weakness here: The frankness they're presented with often seems at odds with a lingering sense of contrivance in their relationships.