The mystery of writing,"" Mason (Feather Crowns, 1993, etc.) notes in the Introduction to this hefty compilation of her short fiction, ""is much like diving into the darkness in the middle of the night. It's both dangerous and fraught with possibility."" Repeatedly, Mason's characters, products of the uncertain New South of the 1970s and '80s, either gather up their courage to plunge into change or flee it. In ""Bumblebees,"" for instance, two women largely cut off from the world by grief make a tentative and profoundly moving (if understated) attempt to escape from its confines. By contrast, in ""Memphis,"" a woman increasingly isolated from her family, unable to act, reflects that most of those around her were ""being pulled along by thoughtless impulses and notions, as if their lives were no more than a load of freight hurtling along on the interstate."" This selection, drawn from Mason's two volumes of short fiction (Love Life, 1989; Shiloh and Other Stories, 1982) reminds one of the quiet virtues of her work: her wry, exact portrait of a South caught somewhere between tradition and a bland modern culture of interstates and shopping malls, and her ability to suggest, in the guarded speech of her characters, a world of confusion and hope. Subtle, resonant work.