Remarkably poised, beautifully written short stories from a leading Soviet writer who is the granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy. Social outcasts and misfits most often star in Tolstaya's richly textured tales of Russian life that evoke memory, desire and, frequently, Oedipal longings. In "Sweet Dreams, Son," the collection's sharpest psychological portrait, a man raised in an orphanage fantasizes that his beautiful mother-in-law in his own mom. In "Peters," a boy grows up despising himself, his society, and women because his grandmother, a student of German, tags him with the awkward name of the story's title. In "On the Golden Porch," a more pleasant childhood tale dedicated to the author's sister, memories of a lively uncle are the focus of reminscences about the "magic lantern" of youth. Always impressive here is Tolstaya's idiosyncratic use of language and metaphor. In "Loves Me, Loves Me Not," about a child's relationship to her nanny, the surreal experience of having a high fever is described as seeing "a wooden honeycomb filling up with three-digit numbers." "Fire and Dust" is a wonderfully mournful tale comparing the lives of a trapped married woman and a battered, adventurous female drifter, with the former coming to feel that she has "missed the path leading to the distant singing happiness." Almost all of Tolstaya's verbal and narrative tricks work spectacularly. Her best pieces conjure memories of Dostoyevskian agony and torment, yet are always handled with the nuanced velvet touch of, say, Chekhov. Already featured in the recent Balancing Acts (p. 232) with "Peters," Tolstaya arrives solo in this smashing debut package; graceful, poised, and powerful literary fiction--with an imagination extending well beyond politics and borders.