British playwright Arnold Wesker is so compassionate that he may be his own worst enemy. These five stories are full of almost unbearable dolors -- half generated by the fears which dog our days, half by the actuality which ends them. Last things first -- ""A Time of Dying"" sits figurative shiva (Wesker's lapsed and/or assimilated Jewishness is everpresent) over an aunt's death, then another's, and finally at the close there is only one renewed survivor. Less bearable (and sometimes maudlin in spots) is the title story which deals with the slow death (leukemia) of an old Yorkshire unionist, the ardent letters written by his wife Sonia who attends him, and the witness of a friend who serves ""as spiritual double-agent, in collusion with them both."" The other more important piece is ""The Man Who Became Afraid"" -- starting with all the catastrophes which have taken place in the world during the last quarter century, continuing with his own increasingly internalized fears, ending with his ""tumbling, tumbling"" exhaustion: ""My God, I am frightened of everything. . . . Now I really am."" The first story deals with another self-examined life, that of a young woman overly susceptible to causes, changes, uncertain impulses and insecurities. But ""The Pools"" is some how more cheerful -- a story, about an old woman who has her big dream of winning 75,000 pounds but who cannot even buy a newspaper to corroborate her triumph. . . . In all this retrieval of sorrow, even with the touch of as observant and vulnerably humane a writer as Wesker, he can hardly hope to find the ordinary reader unless misery likes more company than is usually the case.