A strong debut collection of eight stark stories about decent, ordinary people getting on with life in the Pacific Northwest. Starting with the beginning piece, ""Settled on the Cranberry Coast,"" in which a paunchy, retired teacher turned carpenter lands his first job rebuilding the house of a woman he had a major high-school crush on years ago--a house she now shares with her granddaughter--the themes of dysfunctional, distended families and scarcely nameable yearnings come to the fore. While middle age is often a focus, younger men alone also figure prominently. In ""In Spain, One Thousand and Three,"" a computer-game designer, recently widowed, manifests distress in the form of lusty thoughts about every female he comes in contact with--including his dead wife's mother; in ""Wizard,"" a budding playwright's debut, a romantic tale about Thomas Edison's much younger first wife, opens a door into his fantasy life that the actress in the role willingly steps through. The most sustained story here, ""A Fair Trade,"" while having almost no men in it, still links thematically with the rest. Young Andie goes to live with her aunt Maggie on the rustic edge of Seattle after her father is killed in action in WW II. Wary of men, Maggie instills in her niece a love of independence, even though she falters by getting involved with someone who becomes more than merely possessive regarding Andie, forcing them to move. Andie grows up and out of touch with Maggie, marries, divorces, moves east, then returns to Seattle in her 50s a fully independent professional believing herself cut from the same cloth as her aunt--only to find Maggie's life not what it seemed. The sensitivity to simple human drama is acute in all of these stories, and rather than being ruined by a certain sameness, they offer steady reassurance that quiet determination can make a difference.