Peltse And Pentameron ($39.95; paper $14.95; Dec. 1996; 200 pp.; 0-8101-1219-1; paper 0-8101-1237-X): Two stories of Soviet ideological purity unhinged by the unruly humanity of the people who aspire to it. The shorter, Peltse, surveys the brief, unhappy life of a village misfit, from embattled youth through his maturity as a dedicated Party functionary--as remembered by the comrades who never understand how such submergence in the cause paradoxically fulfilled his modest dreams. The novella-length Pentameron observes a day in the addled professional and personal lives of a man and four women who work as translators for the Department of Scientific and Technical Information. It's a salutary comic display of how people expected to function as uniform cogs in the machinery of the Party are instead diverted and defused by the nonpartisan imperatives of family problems, money, and sex. . . .