Londoner Mackay's brilliant collection of stories about life's odd pots should add to her reputation as a brilliant satirist of social behavior. The 11 stories about life's lost souls and losers, scarred by drink, money, power or any number of other follies, capture a wide range of voices, settings and styles within finely tuned tales bearing one commonality: their excellent surprise endings. In the hilarious ""Barbarians,"" Ian and Barbara Donaldson own an eponymous, fabulously successful children's clothing company, which has spawned a mail-order empire as well as a bevy of political, racial and labor issues. The punch line here lies in young Jack Donaldson's innocent rhyme about babies, unaware that both his parents are silently hoping that their extramarital liaisons have not resulted in any additional offspring. In ""The Index of Embarrassment,"" Freddy, a gay man, visits his eccentric and prickly Uncle Bob out of pity and guilt. Bob is the author of The Definitive Index of Embarrassment, an obscure chronicle of all things gross and disgusting. When Bob's neighbor Dennis is discovered dead, the other characters are swamped in grief and contemplate their own mortality. Meanwhile, Uncle Bob's pressing concern is getting his ladder back, lent to the now expired Dennis some weeks earlier. A broad range of charactersDincluding the publishing executive who takes a nightmarish trip to India in search of an author whose next novel will undoubtedly be a bestsellerDtestify to Mackay's remarkable empathy for quirky people trapped in mundane circumstances. (Oct.) FYI: Mackay's 1996 novel, The Orchard on Fire, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.