Nelson's first story collection, The Expendables, won the 1990 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and her second is even better--tough-talking, provocative tales that plunge deep into the heart of love and solitude. Male or female, regardless of age, Nelson's protagonists are a standoffish, unblinking bunch. In her arresting title story, a Chicago waitress--whose three teenaged brothers have captured her rapist and insist on a confrontation--stares out at the snow and reflects on the misnomer of justice in an unjust world; in ""The Happy Day,"" the unhappy assistant to a wedding photographer compulsively shoots images of blinking brides, weeping flower-girls, and puking best men to paste up on her walk-up apartment walls; in ""Fire Season,"" a petty thief stands at the bedroom door of a rich, teenaged one-night stand and wonders why he's unable to rob her; and in ""Goodbye, Midwest,"" the grown daughter of intellectual snobs guiltily ignores the wedding announcements that regularly arrive from her childhood best friend. Divided between urban, middle-class settings and the isolated adobe dwellings of the Southwest, Nelson's stories share an aridity of vision and terseness of language that refresh and clarify in spite of some depressing themes and inexplicably abrupt conclusions. Her isolated, uncompromising men and women, hungering for human contact yet feeling powerless to change, still take private satisfaction in the slight, everyday revelations of the soul, and find a separate peace more durable than romantic happy endings. Sharp-edged American fiction, by a very promising writer.