The stories in this remarkable collection-including "An Anxious Man," winner of the National Short Story Prize (UK)-are vibrant and gripping. James Lasdun's great gift is his unfailing psychological instinct for the vertiginous moments when the essence of a life discloses itself. With forensic skill he exposes his characters' hidden desires and fears, drawing back the folds of their familiar self-delusions, their images of themselves, their habits and routines, to reveal their interior lives with brilliant clarity.   In sharply evoked settings that range from the wilds of Northern Greece to the beaches of Cape Cod, these intensely dramatic tales chart the metamorphoses of their characters as they fall prey to the full range of human passions. They rise to unexpected heights of decency or stumble into comic or tragic folly. They throw themselves open to lust, longing, and paranoia-always recognizably mirrors of our own conflicted selves.   As James Wood has written, "James Lasdun seems to be one of the secret gardens of English writing . . . When we read him we know what language is for again." This collection of haunting, richly humane pieces is further proof of the powers of an enormously inventive writer.