Beattie writes a serviceable and (for a change in this series) unjadedly enthusiastic introduction to the choices she's made--and, once more, the picker says a good deal about the picked: many stories here trade in the centripetal shagginess of detail yet narrow narrative lurch that mark so many of Beattie's own works. Hardly a story is pointed or sharpened: they have broad, even bottoms that work best with comedy (Ralph Lombreglia's "Men Under Water") and worst with melodrama (Kent Haruf's "Private Debts/Public Holdings"). Susan Sontag's impressively urgent, breath-held portrait of trying to live around the AIDS plague is a good piece of stylization, as is Mavis Gallant's funny, resigned comedy of cultural ruin, "Kingdom Come." The two most superficially involving stories are Sue Miller's "The Lover of Women"--a calm, year-by-year sexual dance that owes a lot (too much) to numerous stories by Peter Taylor; and Craig Nova's "The Prince"--with that signature Nova imprint of classical tale-telling and gargantuan pretention. The winner here, hands down, is Bharati Mukhergee's "The Tenant"--a story deceptively simple and inevitable (a young Indian woman's exile in the Midwest; hungers that can be appeased) that has no trace of the disingenuousness of so many others here: a strong, bouyant piece of work. Included this year, by the way, in the contributor's notes, is an opportunity for each writer to talk about the genesis of his or her story--a sophomoric, writing-workshop idea that adds nothing to the stories at all.