Beckett (a novel: Give Them Stones, 1987) is back with eleven stories about women in Northern Ireland, and her spare prose speaks volumes here. With just a few words--""the Troubles,"" ""the curfew,"" ""a Protestant street""--she makes clear the day-to-day confines of these women's lives, while making it equally clear that, in the end, these are women ruled mostly by the confines of their own hearts. In ""The Balancing of Clouds,"" Charlotte, an embittered woman nearing 50, thinks about the boy she fell in love with long ago. Robbie McClelland was a Protestant boy, and he wanted to marry her, but he would not sign the paper agreeing that their children could be raised Catholic. Now childless and married to Catholic John Conlon, Charlotte remembers and mourns and pities herself--until one rainy night. Out walking, after a particularly bad session with John, Charlotte stops to rest, falls asleep, and when the violent rain wakens her, she realizes her folly--she's been nurturing hurt and misery all the years of her marriage. In ""Failing Years,"" Nora, an aging widow, has struggled to hold onto a bit of inner life under the scrutiny and interference of her daughter Una, who's grown, inexplicably, from a ""slim, lively girl"" to a ""sedate, solid, middle-aged woman."" And in the title story, narrator Mary Harrison, a Catholic living on a Protestant street, receives a threatening letter that triggers memories of all the years of love and turmoil she's survived. A couple of stories here--""Theresa"" and ""A Farm of Land""--never quite live up to their promise, but, overall, Beckett's clear, compelling writing and her characters--embattled, embittered, but really all heart--fill this small collection to the brim.