These short pieces, all comic and gently against-the-grain, predate Voinovich's spoofery in The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan and The Ivankiad (both 1977); now, compared to Zinoviev's savage humor in The Yawning Heights (p. 477), all three books seem a little meek. But Voinovich does mine a life-is-just-one-big-pickle vein of melancholy humor that has its attractions. ""What I Might Have Been"" presents a construction engineer compromised into cutting unsafe corners through pressure and his own disappointment at being swallowed up by the bureaucracy at age 40. ""A Circle of Friends""--Stalin and his toadies behind closed doors--is funny enough (but lacks the tang of Krotkov's The Red Monarch, p. 144). In ""Skurlatsky, Man of Letters,"" a turn-of-the-century literatteur is so flattered to be framed as the author of an elegant but seditious anti-Czarist manifesto that he gladly accepts a sentence of hanging--a wicked transposition of Soviet literary life. The longest piece, ""From An Exchange of Letters,"" centers around a soldier tricked into marriage by an older woman he pen-pal-ed with, and is thick with blackouts, table-turning, and convenient drunkenness; it's charming but rather artificial. Some amusement, then--but the sustained Voinovich of the later novels is the more impressive.