Singing the body electric in her distinctive way, by frying a basic life-as-punishment theme until little but ashes remains, Granta-acclaimed young novelist Thon returns with a second volume of tough, exact, unsparing stories (Girls in the Grass, 1991). Thon's characters either drink or struggle to give it up. The title story follows the hard life of a beefy hospital orderly, a recovering alcoholic, who takes in a hard-bitten, homeless stranger thinking there might be comfort in mutual misery; she soon goes back to the streets, however, while he, demoted from emergency room to morgue, ruins his knee by attempting to treat an even beefier corpse with dignity. Also set in sodden Seattle, ""Bodies of Water"" features a hard-drinking housewife who has her purse snatched, then goes home to weather a storm alone while her husband and rebellious daughter wander the city; the power goes out, which doesn't keep her from finding the booze, after which, fearful that the purse-snatcher has somehow followed her and broken in, she spends the night in a trunk in the attic. In Montana, another middle-aged woman also experiences a night of terror in ""Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer,"" but hers happened 21 years before, when she went seeking thrills on the local Indian reservation, got drunk, then hit and killed another drunk while driving home. The dead man was an Indian, and her father quietly repaired the truck damage, so she kept her secret, but thereafter hers was a haunted existence. Dora, in ""Necessary Angels,"" has an affair at the age of 14 with a sullen, older black youth. She becomes pregnant, has an abortion, then self-destructively drifts; by contrast, her ex-lover moves away and eventually makes something of himself. Although in essence these stories are grim studies of lost possibilities, the rhythmic beauty of Thon's writing is everywhere extraordinary: Here is a writer who can really sing the blues.