A thin, often didactic, largely disappointing collection of stories from an enormously gifted author of short fiction (In Love & Trouble) and novels--whose storytelling powers seem wasted on the generally simple-minded material here. The book's first story, for instance, jumps right off with a dazzlingly convincing narrative voice--that of a black Southern small-town woman--but interest soon sinks as the story's bland premise becomes clear: it's a fictionalized, sentimental little riff on Elvis Presley and the black blues writer-singer whose music helped make him famous (with unsubtle echoes of the familiar exploitation issue). Likewise, a vignette of an elderly black, much-feted writer--which is deliciously told but holds only the most obvious ironies. And most of the more intensely serious stories here appear to sacrifice texture of character and incident to sociological debate-and-discussion: reminiscences of black/white sex during the Civil Rights years; two contrasted black women's lives over the years; a monologue-anecdote about a black woman who kills her white lover/abuser; plus some unabashed propaganda re pornography (with special reference to the portrayal of black women in porn). When concentrating on love and marriage, however, Walker seems to ease off a bit and does some genuine exploring: "The Lover"--about a black woman having an affair with a charming, intellectually petty New York Jew at a writers' colony--is unformed but alive; "Laurel" verges on melodrama--a now-married black woman haunted by her mad, white-country-boy ex-lover--but has undeniable grab; and best of all is "The Abortion," the painful anatomy of a deteriorating marriage. Ragged, often superficial work, then--with more sociological interest (the black/feminist intersection) than literary.