Packer's debut collection of ten stories previously published in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, Prize Stories 1992: The O. Henry Awards, etc., reveals a sharp eye for the myriad ways humans deceive themselves, though her humor can be smothered by her 30-ish, middle-class protagonists' very prosaic lives. In ""Mendocino,"" a single woman visiting her brother and his irritating Northern California girlfriend is forced to confront the end of their shared childhood and the beginning of her sibling's life as a man. ""Nerves"" shows a New Yorker transplanted to San Francisco licking his wounds after his wife abandons him for her boss. In ""Babies,"" an unmarried advertising copywriter's growing case of baby lust overwhelms her professional and personal lives. The narrator of ""Horse"" recalls her attempt the year her father died to transform herself from a brainy, introverted ninth-grader into a popular pompom girl. The characters in these and Packer's other six stories tend toward the earnest and serious, although their attention to routine often blinds them to the subterranean feelings that ultimately redirect their lives. In her strongest pieces -- including ""Mendocino,"" ""Horse,"" and ""The Glass House,"" in which a newlywed obsesses over the suicide of her home's previous owner -- Packer's clear, steady prose peels back surface layers to reveal the mechanisms behind pain and sadness. Her few weaker tales -- ""Ninety,"" a chronicle of the traditional outdoor birthday bash thrown for an elderly man by his family; and ""Hightops,"" in which a young drifter witnesses the dissolution of his friends' marriage -- never manage to reveal the human emotions underneath inconsequential conversation. Still, often arresting, in spite of the bland surroundings.