"Bumblebees," a story about two women overly acquainted with grief but making a new start in a house out in the country, is the magnificence here, in Mason's first stow collection since Shiloh: it'll probably become a classic. In this story, Mason is working at her fullest--material woven with sympathy, humility, and a whole new sense of the pastoral, the most threatened genre in American literature. It is her willingness to consider what passes for satisfaction in un-urbanized Americans that is Mason's great strength, anyway. In "Hunktown," she's written probably the most incisive story yet about country-and-western music--its "pointless suffering," its promiscuous nostalgia and self-indulgence. In "The Secret of the Pyramids," a woman's affair With a married man is canopied by lowered expectations--yet Mason is alive to sensations most writers would miss: "Barbara loves the lighting in the mall--the way it is broken by the variegated greenery around the fountain and the rainbow colors of the merchandise in the store window. The dark flow of pedestrians against the brilliant fluorescence makes her think of that sunset on the Mississippi River last year." In "Memphis," a divorcee cannot find the margins of her misery; she can only sense how many people were--like her husband Joe and her mother--"half conscious, being pulled along by thoughtless impulses and notions, as if their lives were no more than a load of freight hurtling along on the interstate." The generosity that Mason can bring to her people--as well as the lack of moralistic pomp--are unusual, which is why her fiction remains of documentary importance while also being beautiful as artifact. But for all that, the short form seems to chafe here, as it didn't in Shiloh--many stories have flattened rhythms, too-similar structures, even narrative hesitations. In In Country and Spence + Lila. Mason has shown herself to be increasingly comfortable in the novel's longer form, and you get the sense that--as generous as the portraiture of her stories is--Mason's talent has in some ways gone beyond them.