And she has a good ear for language, as well as a knack for providing quirky details about even her minor characters. The narrator of "The Fractious South," who lost his father to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and who will himself be the only one of his schoolmates to come back from the Chechen conflict, says, "Part of being invisible is being quiet, so if any of this bothered us, we didn't complain. Except Grandpa Ilya, who grumbled that all the dust and the noise had completely unnerved the fish." In "A Darkness Held," Imogene McCrary fills in for the dying nun whose austere teaching had made her miserable as a girl. When she tells her students that Sister Clement has passed away, one of them asks, "Is this going to be on a test? Because that's not an essential mystery, and today is Wednesday, and we always talk about essential mysteries on Wednesdays."