From this gifted Irish writer (living now in Glasgow), nine crystalline, quiet stories--the voice here is never raised even slightly--showing that the simple stuff of plain life can make for the finest fiction. MacLaverty (The Great Profundo, 1988, etc.) punctuates his pieces with tiny interchapters about the daily life--apparently--of a writer that, while sometimes charming (a broken fountain pen, an incident at customs), may as often strike readers as distractingly trivial. The stories themselves, though, are another matter, whether or not informed by the troubled politics of Ireland, as in the title story (a nonpolitical man is kidnapped--and then disgustedly let go--by IRA members), or ``A Silent Retreat'' (a Catholic schoolboy hears unmitigated hatred in the talk of an uneducated prison guard). MacLaverty once or twice abandons his best powers, as in ``A Foreign Dignitary''--a thinly futuristic parable of totalitarianism--but he more than regains them in calmly observed and simply engineered Chekhovian stories of domestic life and sorrow. A husband of 25 years is grotesquely--and immaturely- -insensitive to his wife's desires (far deeper than his) in ``At the Beach,'' and a divorced mother comes to see the extent of her own loss (and angry jealousy) through her 13-year-old daughter's gift at chess (``The Grandmaster''). Best of all, though, are ``Compensations,'' about a boy's father dying--in one simple description of a lonely Irish living room, MacLaverty reaches as high as fiction can reach--and ``Just Visiting,'' about a man tending to the slow death of a friend. MacLaverty misses a few notes now and then. But on the whole he composes a quietly moving symphony showing that the sounds of the contemplative--and perfect--short story can still be brought to life and ring in sad, lovely, perfect tones.