Nothing at all like her first novel--The Trojan Gold (1979), a tale of suspense--these 16 stories by poet Cudahy brood on death and often measure its consequences for surviving children and spouses. The grimmest pieces involve suicide by defenestration. ""The Good Women"" is a young girl's memoir of her dead grandmother, which dwells on the suicide of the old woman's best friend, a senile nun, once exalted for her saintliness. A similar Irish-Catholic sensibility pervades ""The Wet Sidewalk,"" in which a grieving young widow jumps to her death after a one-night stand with a creep. Another young narrator, a teen-aged child of divorce, finds comfort with an elderly distant relative, a widower who mistakes her occasionally for his dead son (""Towing""). In ""Grass,"" a fatherless girl explains her widowed mother's attachment to their farmland, and her mother's worry that her son will be drawn away by a rootless girl he fancies. A less appealing child, motherless, in ""The Hired Girl"" boasts of how she and her siblings drive away their housekeeper with their violent escapades. ""Loving Duds"" is a long, poignant piece narrated by a self-described ""dud,"" a teen-aged girl who resents her beautiful adopted sister. Two self-consciously offbeat death-narratives concern a man misdiagnosed as terminal (""Everything"") and a young female cancer patient who's extraordinarily vain (""Ratings""). Two decidedly surreal bits strike an inappropriate tone, one about an isolated harbor community (""Saying Something""), the other about a girl who grows a beard (""Recognitions""). Perhaps the best piece in this largely undistinguished collection is ""Vital Signs,"" a vignette from the death watch of a wife for her actor-husband. Miscellaneous stories touch on subjects such as the pressures of parenthood and the existence of God. Some workmanlike tales, then, but few signs of life, in this dolorous volume.