In one story of this captivating collection, a promising young architect with singular vision steadily unravels into an unemployed, impoverished basket case: ''The turmoil and confusion, concession and healing. The arguments, bitterness, and lessons learned. All these have left the mark of compromise on him.'' Indeed, Seiffert's Study is fascinated by the marks of compromise on people, including a grad student in search of toxins who befriends a potentially contaminated local mother and son, a hairdresser trying to come to terms with her unlovable, sickly daughter, and young parents rendered immobile by their 3-year-old, who doesn't want to move to a new home. Because Seiffert writes without judgment or sympathy, her flawed characters are all the more compelling.