Death is never far from the surface in these essays and vignettes by surgeon and short-story writer Richard Seizer. Death is victor in the operating room when the anesthetist says, ""I do not have a heartbeat,"" or in Korea when an ambulance upends in a flash flood and the child patient is dashed against the rocks. These are intensely moving passages, well-wrought examples of Selzer's baroque style. Such prose leaps effortlessly and teases with sensuous delights. But occasionally it slips into mannerism, as in Selzer's informative but overblown essays on the liver or the skin or the belly, or in his fiendishly detailed account of the options in disposing of the corpse. (Death again, but as lurid spectacle.) Just at the point of exasperation, he turns ail wit and charm, and disarms in an essay confessing his pleasure in smoking or expressing hope that cardiologists will someday discover that jogging is bad for the heart. The final collection of stories is winning, too. These are reminiscences of growing up in Troy, New York, during the Depression, and Seizer will surely endear himself to anyone who has ever been carsick as he recalls those ritual Sunday rides. There is death again, too, in the tender description of his father's dying. Apart from some overindulgence, an impressive display of knowledge and art, magic and mystery.