Charles Baxter is a writer's writer; his prose is dazzlingly precise, his dialogue is unerringly sharp, and his themes are big: God, love, and the loss of both. He's they type of writer who inspires envy among other writers (his fans the acknowledged contemporary queen of short fiction, Alice Munro.) So why is his latest collection so unsatisfying? Baxter's writing is as sharp as usual, but the tone is darker, relentlessly darker at that. Most of the stories are devoid of hope; most of the characters are guilty of the basest acts (misplaced revenge, lust for ex-spouses, and fascism all rear their ugly heads.) I don't mind darkness, but Baxter finds little relief in these pieces; there are no contrasts, no moments of light to make the darkness stand out. Still, the stories hang in the memory. "Time Exposure," in which a husband, acting out of a false sense of justice, nearly murders a neighbor for an imagined crime, gets under the skin.