Not many story collections include an introduction by the author, but Howell clearly thinks readers need to be prepared for the wildly different subjects (and styles) on display in his first volume, some parts of which have appeared in various small magazines. Howell argues for an urban/rural dialectic here, but the city pieces seem less defined by place than by a shared voice: An angry male, done wrong by his women and venting his spleen in vile language. Three tales are also linked by the presence of Veronica, an unstable, obsessive woman who renews her sexual relation with the narrator in a Brooklyn restaurant bathroom (``In the Bathroom at Joey's Restaurant''). He eventually writes a letter (``Dear Veronica'') demanding the return of a favorite sweater, then takes his own obsessiveness a bit further when he breaks into her apartment and masturbates on her underwear and sheets (``Unction''). Howell plumbs bitter love in many guises: a stream- of-consciousness riff on a fickle woman that alternates between abusive language about her and civil telephone chatter with her (the title story); an anecdotal piece describing a date with a drunk (``A Date''); and another date story, this with a married woman the narrator hopes to bed (``Dinner''). Experimental bits include some formless verse on grief (``The Pink Clouds Are Blood''), and a bizarre little love story between a wildebeest and a jellyfish (``Willie and Jackie''). Two hilarious bits update the stories of La Bohäme and Oedipus, the first as a contemporary tale of a bulimic bohemian in Paris, the second set in a small modern Illinois town. Six stories, all similar in voice, are set in a rural South of outrageous, over-the-top shenanigans involving liquor, women, and low-comic antics, the best being the record of a hilarious drunken Passion Play in the longish ``My Education,'' a tale offering inspired goofiness on a par with T.R. Pearson. On balance: too many disagreeable and disposable pieces detract from some solid storytelling.