A second collection of tales from the author of Searching for Survivors (1975)--and, whether they be fantasias demonstrating the ascendancy of fiction over history or semi-realist reflections of contemporary New England life, all of Banks' stories are intriguing. His New Englanders are ""poor, hardworking people"" for whom ""conservatism was the only reasonable alternative to superstition."" Banks offers another alternative: imagination, a potent yet still conservative force; he picks over the lives of his characters and sets them in magical, symmetrical rows. This imaginative patterning worked brilliantly in Banks' second novel, Hamilton Stark (1978). In these short stories, however, it often seems too studied and arch. Only one piece really reaches--""The Conversion"": a high-school boy, wracked with self-disgust, falls prey to an attack of vagueness so overwhelming that he takes it as a sign that he should become a minister. Still, if there's better fiction about lingering American Puritanism, we don't know it. When Banks gives himself room and time to be sedulous, unflashy, and close-to-the-grain, he's top flight.