Despite an all-too-brief and tragic life, Welch (1915-1948) produced a remarkably fresh and formidable body of work, most of which Dutton has recently reprinted for American readers. Three novels (Maiden Voyage, In Youth is Pleasure, A Voice Through a Cloud), his journals, and now this astonishing collection of 26 stories should establish a permanent place for Welch in the pantheon of modern letters. In this volume Robert Phillips brings together all the stories published in Welch's native England, also rescues seven unpublished tales from obscurity. In all of them, Welch's unusual literary sensibility comes forcefully through. The author's painfully self conscious and self-effacing narrators join one another mainly in their obsessions. They linger over the sensate world, whether through stale, smelly clothes (""When I was Thirteen"") or the cold touch of an axe blade (""The Fire in the Wood""). Youthful and raw, these characters fear old age, pain, and death (""The Coffin on the Hill""; ""The Trout Stream""). Male or female, they crave virile, tellurian sexuality (""The Barn""; ""Anna Dillon""). Welch's dark vision comprehends ""scenes of squalor and brutality."" An art student witnesses a bloody lovers' quarrel in the park (""The Earth's Crust""); a young man meets a strange old woman who lives among her bizarre bibelots in ""a living tomb"" (""Evergreen Seaton-Leveratt""). In ""A Fragment of a Life Story,"" another young man, this one ""overcome with the horror of living,"" tries to end it all, but merely humiliates himself in his pathetic attempt. Repulsed as much by hypocrisy as by bad taste, Welch's alter egos continually strive for friendship and love in an increasingly gloomy, grotesque world. Sometimes they just manage to find it, if only for a moment. For all his relentless morbidity, Welch surprises with his flashes of perverse humor and genuine innocence. And while it's tempting to search for a pathology in these strange and wonderful tales, to do so would somehow diminish the genius everywhere here in evidence.