Jane Turner Rylands, . . Pantheon, $22 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42232-4

Everything is connected in this clever book of 12 linked stories: islands, people, whole intersecting cultures. An oil can chucked into a canal on page eight whizzes past an ear on page 148, and some of that same oil starts a fire in the last story. Rocco, a Venetian construction foreman in "Mason," thinks of his city as a place whose various parts are connected not only by bridges but by "people at windows looking across canals straight into each other's houses...." One thing bridges to the next; there are no degrees of separation. Yet each of Rylands's dozen stories is fully realized, with its own pace, vocabulary and emotional pitch, the tone of each reflecting the character on center stage: "Postman," "Architect," "Collector," "Contessa," "Mother." The stories break down Venice's famous social barriers by making the reader intimate, for a moment, with the full array of humanity in the enchanted city. Rylands is an Ohio native who has lived in Venice for 30 years and is married to the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. She is perhaps best at describing American and English travelers and transplants. "Visitor," for instance, takes the reader straight inside the word-obsessed brain of Charles Smithers, who can't stop punning, making lists, cleverly arranging quotations; he doesn't speak so much as recite dialogue. Rylands's intricately worked mosaic will please anyone heading to Venice or dreaming of the next visit. (May 6)