Arresting tales of urban confusion--and a 1991 Iowa Short Fiction Award winner--by a New York writer whose fiction has appeared in the Yale Review, New Yorker, Mademoiselle, and Redbook. Bafflement reigns in many of these stories set, for the most part, in New York apartments and featuring females in the throes of self-definition; while the heroines vary (a nine-year-old girl fleeing an ugly, older ``friend,'' a young mother with an undependable husband, a lonely widow who lives vicariously through her neighbors), the dilemma remains roughly the same: how to live with people who disappoint us, and how to cope in a less-than- perfect world. Olsen's dry humor comes in handy as, in ``Topaze,'' a working mother struggles with the conflicting desires of her husband and children (``Paulie put his arms around her and planted his nose in her stomach, a wonderfully appealing embrace, though she couldn't help wondering if his nose was perfectly dry'') and, in ``A Rent Stabilized Romance,'' a former dancer adjusts to life as a divorcÇe (``She is not interested in marrying again. She has completely lost her stretch''); and her eye for the telling emotional detail generally triumphs over abrupt endings and occasionally awkward lines (``Her weighty combination of sex and stupidity rendered me dumb''). A compelling collection, overall, by a lively and interesting writer.