A promising first collection of six stories, two novella- length, that deal with early middle-age and midlife crisis, mostly from a female perspective. The shorter offerings here are more sharply rendered than the novellas. In ``Buddy,'' Charlie Whitman, a photographer, uses the excuse of an abusive father and an unhappy childhood to avoid commitment to Claudine, his French girlfriend. When Claudine is called away to France, Charlie trains her dog Buddy, changing the animal so much--and revealing so much of himself and his need for control--that the couple's relationship is doomed upon her return. ``The Comfortable Apartment'' places a battered wife in a no-win situation: she can stay on with her abusive husband or depend on her sister, Josie, who is so devoted to spontaneous mobility that she offers assistance only to leave for South Africa. Of the novellas, the title story, a meandering affair, follows Lucy Langworthy, 30, to the Florida Keys, where she at first languishes, in love with companion and soul-mate Nick, who's homosexual, and then impulsively marries Vietnam vet Dennis, who turns out to be a dangerous drunk. ``The Interior Studio,'' more coherently structured as a conflict between art and the biological clock, pits Lela's painting against her desire for love and family when she meets Lewis Frame and gets pregnant at age 38. She resolves her dilemma rather absurdly by painting a series of curly-haired babies. ``The Good Listener'' is a well-written clichÇ about a writer who neglects a female student in order to have an affair with a colleague, then gets his comeuppance at a reading. At her best, Dark reveals the dislocations of contemporary life, while in her lesser moments she settles for banalities that are only a notch above popular fiction.