Mason's best stories make this debut collection the most lively and interesting of its kind since Jean Thompson's The Gasoline Wars (1978). Mason's people locate in western Kentucky; mostly they're in their thirties; they work in supermarkets or fast-food places or at fleamarkets; frequently they are maritally separated (and deeply embarrassed by it). And the problems of modern American middle-classness, then, have them awash in unpreparedness. In the title story, a married couple find themselves thrown together (he's a disabled truckdriver, she works at the local Rexall) more intimately, centerlessly, than ever before--and they can hardly breathe. More sharply touching still is ""The Rookers""--about a middle-aged country couple totally befuddled by the attitudes their friends are rushing to catch up with. In ""Offerings,"" a separated woman's mother and old grandmother come for a visit: it's a fine story about raggedness, natural and human. ""Detroit Skyline 1949"" uses postwar memories (TV, polio, Red scares) to illustrate how the confusions of childhood will sometimes congeal into farfetched but movingly complete systems. And the Chekhovian ""Still Life with Watermelon"" demonstrates one of Mason's greatest strengths: her total lack of ridicule. True, half the stories collected here are not so good as these: Mason gets too tangled in specimen days, trivia, brand-name recognitions. And there is a fashionable over-reliance on analogy (""The Climber,"" ""Residents and Transients,"" ""Third Monday"") as a means of investing pointless incidents with a hint of significance. But, at her most acute, Mason is quite a talent: feeling, various, observant, hungry. And this collection, with much that's good and a few pieces that are superb, demands wide, serious attention.