""We wear contemporary modes of clothing and mimic contemporary modes of speech,"" boasts one of the narrators in Rondinone's splashy debut, which combines a sentimental, muckraking realism with touches of (Donald) Barthelmean whimsy. Rondinone does indeed mimic contemporary (read, MTV-urban) modes of speech--and mimics them well. The language careens from standard English to gangsta dialect to poetic lyricism, and the structure varies from straightforward monologue to postmodern questioning of a story's premise. At its best, Rondinone's depictions of life in the ghetto remind one of Junot Diaz or Hubert Selby Jr., especially in flashes of dark, satirical humor: one gang robs another for money to print invitations to a suicide party; an overgrown 11-year-old child-prodigy fantasizes about his college teacher (""I want to bump the uglies with Miss Mandi, but she steps off because I'm not officially an adult""); a gangster invents an electrical device to make women compliant in bed. But one-liners notwithstanding, these 15 stories feed off the same macho gangsta fantasies that they pretend to satirize. Their indignation feels scripted, their veneer of pomo trickiness tacked on. In ""Glasses,"" a little girl views her world as enchanted until corrective lenses reveal it as a slum, but at a moment when representations of ghetto life saturate the popular media, this story of corrected vision rings false. Part nightly news, part action flick, these stories may have street credibility, but their flights of fancy never quite get them off the ground. Agent: Elizabeth Backman; author tour. (July) FYI: The author was a gang member in the South Bronx.