In a follow-up collection of eight stories to the much- acclaimed On the Golden Porch (1989), Tolstaya is, by turns, deftly Chekhovian, orchestrating an ensemble of characters, and deeply internal, so that a character's revery or fantasy redeems or at least enlarges a squalid present age. The title piece--one about Denison, who has tried and failed at every art but whose imagination relieves his dreary life, and about his fiancÇe, Lora, who brings her father to a country healer so that his ``warped energy fields'' can be made right--is a dazzling tour de force with a precise metaphoric vision. Likewise, in ``The Moon Came Out,'' a heartbreaker written in translucent lyrical prose, Natasha searches Leningrad (and her memory) for her lost love. ``Most Beloved'' is a moving fictional reminiscence of childhood and youth at a country dacha, where the narrator was overseen by Zhenechka (``we...were certain of her immortality''). It manages to evoke the past nostalgically while avoiding sentimentality. Other stories are more satirical, though not necessarily lighter: In ``The Poet and the Muse,'' for example, Nina tries to cure the poet Grushunya, allowing Tolstaya to indulge in an on-target satire of bohemian life; ``Limpopo,'' on the other hand, while containing satirical elements about the attempt of an activist journalist to initiate a forlorn black immigrant ``into his poetic faith,'' is finally haunting in its dramatization of displacement. Only ``Serafim'' and ``Night,'' though mostly effective, fail to be completely convincing. Once again, Tolstaya displays marvelous erudition and an elegiac tone. Her range and depth of feeling make this second collection as remarkable as her first.