Three impressively varied and dramatic novellas, the first collection of shorter fiction from the author of such novels as Horn of Africa (1980) and Equation for Evil (1996), as well as the acclaimed Vietnam memoir A Rumor of War (1977). The first and longest story, ``Standing In,'' traces the emotional course travelled by Dante Panetta, a young barber who, while returning by Amtrak to Connecticut for his mother's funeral, meets an older married couple--Greer and Julian Rhodes--to whom he finds himself helplessly bound by an ``incredible accident of genetics.'' The ways in which Dante's eerie physical resemblance to their dead son affects both him and them are explored with brisk economy and skillful pacing in a memorable depiction of identity crisis and class conflict. ``Paradise'' describes the volatile impact of a shipwreck survivor on the inhabitants of a small island off the Australian coast. Caputo renders the locals' speech patterns expertly and shifts viewpoints to dazzling effect, creating enormous tension as the disturbed islanders wonder whether the mysterious Anson Barlow is a drug runner, or murderer, or something altogether worse. There's also a splendid surprise ending, in a terrific piece of storytelling that Peter Matthiessen or Robert Stone might well envy. ``In the Forest of the Laughing Elephant'' records a ``rescue mission'' carried out in the jungles of Vietnam by American soldiers whose mess sergeant has been carried away by an enormous tiger. The mission's obsessed leader is determined to exert authority over every enemy, even one motivated by nothing more combative than natural appetite (``It had to be shown who ruled this jungle''). The story is a tour de force: an inventive and haunting parable about men out of their element in a strange and dangerous new land. A possible homage to literary mentors (the novellas respectively recall The Great Gatsby, The Nigger of the ``Narcissus,'' and ``Heart of Darkness''), and the finest work of Caputo's career--a quantum leap beyond his previous fiction.