This collection introduces to fiction a 50ish newcomer who's previously written four children's books and worked as a literary agent. The experience shows. Divided into three neat sections, these stories place Thomas in the coterie of popular female authors that includes Alice Adams, Mary Gordon, Alice Hoffman, and Bobbie Ann Mason. Part One concerns children from charmingly dysfunctional families. The settings and values of the 1950s are captured to perfection, as when the shamed, divorced, or never-married mothers whose teenage children apply too much makeup are juxtaposed with neighbors who have turned their basements into rec rooms in ``1957.'' The four stories in the second section depict women's boredom during roughly the same time period. All revolve around Virginia, thrown out of college the moment she became pregnant, attempting to adjust to her husband and his friends. In these low-key pieces we meet characters already defeated. As the experienced ex- girlfriend puts it: ``The thing about being married is you spend all day waiting for your husband to come home and when he does, it's no big deal.'' But these losers at times show endearingly zany sides--Buddy, for example, draws with magic marker on Virginia's huge stomach. If the middle decades of this century were repressed, all hell breaks loose in the 1980s (Part Three). Enter Louise, a sex-crazed woman approaching menopause, mother of four, twice divorced, who sets her sights continually on the wrong men: a dentist who wishes only to cap her teeth, a 20-year- old construction worker, a former lover, a drug dealer/street musician she barely knows. The only disappointing piece is the final, title story. Here Louise loses her human traits and becomes a gimmicky muse stand-in, telling the writer what to say, or interrupting to explain how it really happened. Despite the disconcerting finish, a powerful collection.