Move over, Ann Beattie. There's a new girl working the Zeitgeist. And this siren of Soho--author of American Dad, 1981--brings to these 22 whacked-out and weird tales an ironic intelligence and new wave sensibility unparalleled among contemporary chroniclers of post-modern life. The best stories in this ample though wildly uneven collection concern a few Manhattan denizens in particular--Eleanor, a maker of plastic James Bond-doll jewelry, and Stash, her graffiti artist boyfriend. In ""The Slaves in New York,"" ""Physics,"" ""Spells,"" and ""Patterns""--to name just a few--these two slaves of real estate and fashion mix kitsch and high culture as they long for ""disembodied"" and ""entropic"" lives. ""The apartment situation"" being what it is, Eleanor puts up with Stash's insane jealousy and deep depressions. The first is caused by Eleanor's chaste encounter with a South African refugee novelist. And the latter results from an article describing Stash's painting, ""The Wisdom of Solomon""--in which Quick Draw Mac Graw and Babalooey saw an Eskimo in half--as ""the mindless scrawling of a Neanderthal."" Everyone's an artist in Janowitz's unreal city, at least when they're not at their day-jobs as receptionists, waitresses, and Xeroxers. Marley Mantello, of ""Turkey Talk"" and ""In and Out of the Cat Bag"" (among others), hopes someday to realize his surreal dream: ""to construct the Chapel of Jesus Christ as a Woman, adjacent to the Vatican."" There are all kinds of latter-day saints and sinners in these punk parables: a pimp with a penchant for Kant (""Modern Saint #271""); a young woman who practices ""interior decoration therapy"" (""Matches""); and an artist who paints traumatic situations with ground bones and blood from the Westside market (""Who's on First?""). The shorter interludes here tend to be all posturing and affect--a hipper-than-thou send-up of Springsteen or a mere catalogue of junk-food culture. But most of these wickedly funny, terribly knowing tales heighten and transform an already absurd world.