A curiously uneven gathering of four very loosely linked stories. Thomas (An Actual Life, 1996, etc.), who specializes in romantic and familial conflict, has been compared to Anne Tyler, but her knowing portraits of terminally lonely people more closely resemble Dorothy Parker's (albeit with the acid content considerably diluted). She's perfected a crisp, forthright style featuring simple declarative sentences punctuated by summary single words or brief phrases. She has a keen eye for such salient details as ``the hot-hair smell of a little girl'' and the sight of an insomniac househusband eating cornflakes at three a.m., hugging in bed a nightgown abandoned by the wife who has also abandoned him. The latter is the protagonist of ``Walter's Book,'' the strong opening story about a middle-aged New York textbook editor settling unhappily into the knowledge that he'll spend the rest of his life by himself. It's followed by ``Edith's Wardrobe,'' the tale of a fiftyish virgin (the sort of character Estelle Parsons plays to perfection) left on her own after the death of her famous mother. Edith and Walter pass on the street, but never meet. Even more tenuously connected to its companions is ``Bunny's Sister,'' an overwritten and borderline-maudlin piece about a teenage runaway. Better linked, but still inconsequential, is the anecdotal title story, in which Edith helps an adulterous neighbor move the body of her married lover, who's died after a heart attack. The recurring plot elements here (yard sales; outcast children sleeping in cars) suggest that these ``stories'' were perhaps pieces of a novel that wouldn't come together. Whatever. Herb's Pajamas is a disappointing whole that comes to much less than the sum of its parts.