There's always something to like in a book by William Boyd. He is never less than a witty raconteur with an unswerving instinct for the mot juste. As the present collection of short stories, "Fascination," attests, he is also a brilliant ventriloquist, capable of embodying, alternately, an adolescent bicyclist, a 19-year-old asthmatic whose parents are both bodybuilders, a female performance artist, a writer named Edward with delusions of his own grandeur (in the collections's best two stories), and a host of dysfunctional middle-aged men. These are narrators who are driven largely by "fascination" for unattainable love objects, like the American publisher in 1940s Cape Cod who meets "The Woman on the Beach with a Dog" and is capable of forgetting his own marriage even when hers intrudes. The fascination here is in the unexpected twists and turns these stories take, including a side trip into Chekhovian territory in "The Pigeon." I enjoyed reading these stories; each is a testament to Boyd's mastery of the form; but I wasn't particularly engaged by any of them. The plotting, to put it bluntly, is perfunctory. I barely got interested in a character or situation, when the story concluded and I was shuffled on to the next character and situation. I got the impression that these might be sketches for books that Boyd never got around to writing--compressed novels, as it were. That being said, this is a much more satisfying collection than the earlier "The Destiny of Nathalie X," which, with the exception of the mordantly funny title story (an insider's take on Hollywood), is even sketchier than "Fascination." Boyd, as his fans know from "On the Yankee Station" (his first collection of stories), "A Good Man in Africa," and a raft of other books, is capable of so much more. I'm certain Boyd has another comic masterpiece like "Stars and Bars" up his sleeve. In the meantime, enjoy this collection for the jeu d'sprit it is.