A first collection of loosely related stories and a title novella, from the Lebanese-born author of Koolaids (1998). The seven briefer stories, which seem to be partially autobiographical, depict—usually in discrete fragments arranged in nonsequential paragraphs—the experience of growing up in a volatile country with extreme social and ethnic contrasts and riven by civil war; and the experience of various “escapes” from parental expectations as well as more immediate dangers. The typical protagonist here is a sensitive outsider lost in the world of books and enduring complex relationships with such imposing loved ones as “My Grandmother, the Grandmaster” (a story where a chess match assumes clever symbolic importance) or with a once-beloved cousin (“Remembering Nasser”) who disapproved of his homosexuality. Sexual confusion and guilt are paramount in several pieces (“Duck” and “A Flight to Paris”) that mourn the loss of a lover to AIDS, and especially in “The Changing Room,” a tense account of a wary Lebanese boy’s experiences in an English boarding school. The centerpiece—and most troubling story here—is The Perv, a self-justifying pedophile’s nauseatingly explicit account of his correspondence with a nubile (Lebanese-American) boy enjoyably exploring his own gayness. Or is this only the fantasy of an aging recluse (who may be a patient in a hospital or sanatorium), comforting and exciting himself with the particulars of imaginary passions (“I have always been someone else, always”)? Alameddine skillfully juggles several possibilities in a deeply confrontational fiction that hauls the reader headlong into intimate contact with a defiantly unconventional sensibility. Despite some monotony, this is a vivid and interesting further exploration of Alameddine’s uniquely multinational, multisexual fiction. It’s not a likable book, but it’s one that the reader does come to respect.