Eight Malamud tales of moral trepidation and the politely grotesque with characters who ruminate like cows with worried, suffering eyes. "Rembrandt's Hat" you should have seen in The New Yorker, but if you didn't, it's the sort of insurmountable molehill Malamud loves to build, this time between a rough-edged, aging sculptor named Rubin and Arkin the art historian, "a man often swept by strong feeling, he thought." That lovely little "he thought" strikes the keynote and leaves us musing on what an obstruction sensitivity can be if sensitivity is in fact any one thing and not the blanket term (Malamud hints) for countless nameless manias. No two here ever seem to jibe, and like Arkin's unconscious gaffe (a reference to Rubin's age and failure) their disconnections are never pointed out directly. Better they should be left yawning, covert and civilized: there's no fixed shape for the yearnings of Abramowitz the centaur, in "Talking Horse," and no more to say about the chasm between father and son in "My Son the Murderer." Other heroes, middle-aged and conscientiously bolder, venture to write love letters and smuggle manuscripts out of Russia, with better and worse results, but results are not so important as the investment of mental energy, the agony, the texture, the comic drag. Our favorite story, still, is the most overt -- "The Silver Crown" -- a burlesque about magic and bad faith featuring a faith-healing rabbi who wakes to greet a strange face--"So, where were we?" Not the most or best of what Malamud gives uniquely, but enough is good too.