Nancy Miller
April 23, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Very few writers could elevate a bad case of eczema into a hilarious near — horror story, but Scottish author Gray does just that with ”Job’s Skin Game” — one of several weird and wonderful tales in the author-illustrator’s 18th book. In these short short stories — most don’t go over ten pages — Gray trots out a cast of surly teens, wistful widows, washed-up poets, and what seems to be his caustic alter ego. Gray has a particular gift for wry character sketches: In ”Aiblins,” he describes ”a thin student whose manner suggested he found life a desperate but comical game he was bound to lose.” Gray charms us into enjoying the spectacle of his oddballs staggering, muttering, and fretting about their weary lives in Glasgow.

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