Short story collections are famously unreliable. Often they start well, then peter out, or they never manage to get off the ground. Unevenness is a common complaint. Bill Roorbach’s new collection, “The Girl of the Lake,” suffers from a problem that most authors could only wish for: So many of the stories are standouts that the others, which are merely strong, seem a bit lackluster by comparison. This is a fitting commentary on the author’s recent work. Larger-than-life characters and scenarios are his stock-in-trade. He writes in a palette of intense hues. Not that ordinary life gets short shrift, by any means. Roorbach imbues dailiness with a lusty energy. It just can’t compete with the operatic mien and scale of his bigger stories. It’s no coincidence that one of his bestselling novels is titled “Life Among Giants.”

In the current collection, the stories range widely enough in style and type that one could reasonably mistake it for an anthology of work by various authors. Or perhaps Bill Roorbach is a pseudonym for the multiple personalities that inhabit this versatile writer. Fact is, this book is all over the place, literally. Its narratives roam from Maine to Maui, from Ibiza to Belfast, with storylines as diverse as their locales. Roorbach moves deftly among different genres – adventure, romance and coming-of-age; suspense, drama and satire.

In “The Tragedie of King Lear,” a summer theater group breathes new life into a retiree still haunted by the loss of his wife. In “Princesa,” a famous actress turns heads and hearts at an over-the-top resort. In “Murder Cottage,” an old crime scene becomes the unlikely backdrop for an offbeat midlife romance.

In each story, Roorbach depicts his characters and scenes in lavish, sometimes excessive detail, showing them inside and out, bringing us into their world. Then he’ll insert one of his grand summations, a compiling of essence. Of a teen’s arrival at his grandmother’s house, Roorbach writes, “She smelled of cookies and lotion and woodsmoke and patted at his back as he patted at hers, hugged him longer than he’d been hugged since he was five, pushed him away to look at him, drew him back in.”

Roorbach is at his best when he navigates the often slippery terrain of human relations. Mating rituals, especially, provide ample fodder. In “Some Should,” a widowed pastor and a divorcée link up through an online dating site, then decide to meet. Their repartee, with its volleys of guile and deceit, is part rom-com, part psychodrama. And the writing is so vivid that readers will be hard put to turn away. Roorbach has reinvented the short story as page-turner.

“The Girl of the Lake” is a poignant, complicated, smart, sexy book, big-hearted in ways that matter. Roorbach is a keen observer of people, with enough fellow-feeling to go around. He confers a respect and humanity on his characters, regardless of their conduct. The only wonder is why this esteemed Maine author isn’t more widely known. In a state that boasts some of the nation’s top literary names, Roorbach surely ranks among the best.

Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News.