Again, as in recent seasons past, this O. Henry Awards collection is more unpretentious and attractive than the comparable Best American Short Stories anthology from Houghton, Mifflin; Abrahams' tastes lean more toward sturdily professional work while being, at the same time, more open to engagingly quirky, idiosyncratic writers. Quirky writers like Leonard Michaels, for instance--whose third-prize-winner, ""The Men's Club,"" is even stronger than the first-prize-winner here, Saul Bellow's ""The Silver Dish"" (the one story common to both annual collections); Michaels' story is his most symphonic and satisfying work yet--the rich, funny account of a clutch of husbands involved in an uncomfortable, oddly pointless consciousness-raising session. Nancy Hallinan's finely modulated ""Women in a Roman Courtyard"" takes the O. Henry's second prize, but four other entries are definitely of prize-winning quality too: Peter Taylor's be-spelling ""The Old Forest,"" with his usual delicate tip of manners into morals; Andre Dubus' passionate ""The Pitcher"" (a minor-league baseball story); ""An Influx of Poets,"" Jean Stafford's devastating, deadly portrait of a selfish and unfaithful versifier who can only be Robert Lowell; and Daniel Asa Rose's ""The Goodbye Present,"" a tricky but very successful attempt to make a textured story (marital strife division) entirely out of 50 questions-and-answers. Also especially worthy: Walter Sullivan's terrifying tale of a battered wife--""Elizabeth."" The other 14 entries may be dull (John L'Heureux) or painfully dry (Gail Godwin), but nearly all are solidly crafted, with fairly typical work from such known quantities as Alice Adams and Ann Beattie. Notwithstanding flashes of brilliance, then, an admirable job of selection distinctly superior to that done by Oates & Ravenel in the Best American Stories 1979 (1979, p. 1022).