McNally's first collection of 14 stories, winner of this year's Flannery O'Connor Award, leisurely patches together instances from the lives of two interrelated families and their small circle of friends who have been touched by an accidental death and by a great deal of drifting and aimlessness. Many of the stories, told by one character or another in brief snapshots, are so shapeless as to be almost incoherent; but when McNally's method is working, the reader becomes intimately acquainted with members of the McClenahan family, including Orion, a photojournalist who dreams of flying to Central America and making a difference; and of the Jowalski family, including Helen, who lost her brother Peter in a freak accident when he was electrocuted on a railroad track. McNally's modus operandi is the slice-of-life; often he juxtaposes one instance to flashbacks from another time. This method is most effective in ``Gun Law At Vermilion,'' in which Anna--once Orion's lover--visits her dying father; the piece movingly juxtaposes real life and the pulp westerns that Anna reads to her father and that dramatize her father's disappointment in her. Other tales (``The Anonymity of Flight''--Helen joins her ex-lover in Vermont for a weekend; ``Peru''--Orion intersperses Central America reminiscence with barroom conversation and crash-pad disorientation; and ``Breathing Is Key''--self-destructive Sarah, obsessed with the gasoline her mother once drank, stays with her abusive boyfriend) surprise with invention but fail finally to cohere, mirroring the plight of the characters: ``Lightning, gravity, love--I've never properly understood any of it.'' ``I'm not something from a myth!'' Helen says, and McNally insistently chops up his narratives--occasionally achieving aesthetic success--to make them reflect human uncertainty in the face of life's surprises.