A gripping and remarkably fine first collection of 11 stories, mapping the changing moral byways of a dying New England mill-town and angling inside the lives of the town's often warring Irish, Italian, Wasp, and newer Puerto Rican inhabitants. In ``The First Snow,'' a contemporary 17-year-old son sticks by his father--a weak, overweight, Waspy Lawton Falls junior-high teacher who has just been arrested for homosexual conduct at a highway rest-stop--even though his mother and brother have fled in horror and he is repelled, too. In ``The Miracle,'' a devoted priest called Father D'Agostino, whose parish is the poorest in Lawton Falls in the 1960's, hesitantly asks a local gangster named Davio Giaccalone for help in saving the church from demolition; a fire is set elsewhere, the church is preserved, but a homeless man dies, and D'Agostino is undone by moral pain. In ``Violet'' and ``All Best Wishes,'' contemporary town yuppies face revealing romantic crises; and in ``The Greyhounds,'' two insouciant young computer programmers from out of town steal an aging Davio Giaccalone's beloved greyhound dog--a mistake, as it turns out, since Giaccalone is still dangerous. The violence turns explicit in the ``Brothers,'' about the gang rape of a Puerto Rican girl by three Irish and Italian garage mechanics in the 1970's. The girl, Maria Mendez, is seen again in ``The Birthday Cake,'' in which an old Italian woman refuses to give up the last cake in a neighborhood bakery for Maria's daughter's birthday party. Davio Giaccalone is definitively betrayed in the elegant, almost classic ``The Last Good Man'': while maneuvering to keep the town's last mill from being closed by the Japanese, he entrusts crucial information to a newspaper reporter who, however, has resolved to learn to look out for himself. There's more--all of it rich in detail and theme.