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Virtually all of these 22 stories from octogenarian Connell (Mrs. Bridge) are set in the U.S.-"an insensate, vulgar, flatulent, bloodless...nation of merchant, thugs, Protestants, and barbers"-where trapped characters fantasize of faraway lands. Its women-profiteering grifters and whores ("St. Augustine's Pigeon," "Hooker"), reactionary viragoes ("Mrs. Proctor Bemish"), an evil secretary and a despotic nanny, to name a few-are set up as straw ladies to be torched by reams of male resentment. The misogyny of Mulbach, an embittered insurance salesman who occupies some 90 pages across three stories, as well as the more subdued, exotically inclined sexism of the book's other recurrent voices (Uncle Gates and Koerner), are frequently unpalatable. But they aren't the measure of Connell's vision, which includes inspired depictions among the bile (in particular of Mulbach's young son, Otto, and of a horrifying WWII scene in Guadalcanal). But Connell is also no Céline, whose effulgent prose could transcend his venomous obsessions, and the book ends up trapped in its characters' own unpleasantness. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.