Vividly imagined scenes and some startling images convey brooding questions of existence in Stone's first short-story collection, which offers pieces written over a span of three decades. In each of these seven tales (all but the title story previously published), the main characters are absorbed in individual torments, frequently alcohol-fueled, yet all yearn to reach outside themselves to know their place in the universe. In ""Miserere,"" a middle-aged librarian runs from her grief over the deaths of her husband and four children by embracing a cruel, misery-obsessed version of Catholicism. Taking illegally dumped aborted fetuses to Catholic priests to be blessed, she relives her loss again and again. In ""Absence of Mercy,"" a man who grew up abused in a grim Catholic home grapples with the legacy of that injustice. ""Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta"" finds a hard-drinking, pot-smoking poet living in Mexico. He rides to the top of a volcano with two burnt-out old hippies only to escape and run down the mountain, desperate to recover a sense of perception. In the superb ""Helping,"" a counselor in a Massachusetts state hospital slips back into an alcoholic wilderness when a client reminds him he hasn't really healed from his experiences in Vietnam. ""Under the Pitons"" presents characters who are literally lost at sea thanks to drugs. The protagonist of ""Aquarius Obscured,"" a speed-crazed mother with a toddler in tow, has a hilariously horrible encounter with a fascist dolphin in an aquarium. Ending the collection is the long title story, which describes a hallucinatory tragedy that results when an alcoholic poet collides with his equally gifted but troubled daughter. Expressed in clean and lucid prose, these short fictions searingly capture the way private pain may become a prison from which a person can spend a lifetime trying to escape. (Apr.) FYI: Houghton Mifflin will simultaneously reissue new paperback editions of Dog Soldiers and A Hall of Mirrors.
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997 Release date: 04/01/1997 Genre: Fiction