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In "The Birthday Girl," one of nine tales of ruined or decaying relationships in Canty's third collection, a divorced father reaches out to a woman in a bar "to help, if I can, for just one night, her loneliness." This yearning for companionship resonates throughout, though the choices and consequences are far from uniform. "They Were Expendable" sees a man turning to the comforts of television following the death of his wife, to whom he wants to remain faithful; an unexpected romance gives him new clarity. In "No Place in the World for You," the volume's most memorable entry, a real estate agent and his harried wife cope with a bite-happy child while the agent's clients deal with their own marital drama. "The Emperor of Ice Cream" tracks two adult children of separated parents, the younger of whom has just been released from the hospital after a drunken car crash involving his older brother; conflicts reignite and place them in a new and dangerous situation. Canty exposes the cracks and seams in ordinary marriages, skillfully examining infidelity and the range of directions life can take once the relationship has ended. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.