The stories in Bernard MacLaverty's new collection "Matters of Life and Death" range in length from a few pages to over 50. The settings also run from the violent Belfast of the 1970s right up to the present day. But what MacLaverty (whose earlier book "Grace Notes" was short-listed for the Booker Prize) brings to each of these eleven stories is an intense feel for Irish life and humanity. Suffice it to say, the title of this collection is aptly chosen. What may seem like small problems always seem to become grave issues in MacLaverty's fictional universe. The opener "On the Roundabout" seems like something out of Flannery O'Connor - initially mundane, ultimately bloody. Also unforgettable is the 11-year-old thief at the center of the darkly comic "Trojan Sofa."

($23.95 / 192 pages / W.W. Norton)