In Devine's first book-length fiction, the characters are, in the main, middle-aged to elderly. There's a crisp little chill in most of these stories as women (mostly) feel the autumnal east winds of aging--and an acceptance of the consequences of affections and rejections that reach back to childhood. Devine's unassuming prose crackles swiftly toward her targets: the rigid perimeters of the sourly traditional marriage with the ever-giving woman, the ever-taking man; the perennial strangleholds of guilt or frustrated love between parents and children, siblings, husbands and wives. In the title story, a middle-aged woman returns from California to the Chicago area (where many of these pieces are set) to care for her widowed mother. But she will find that in stepping out from the shadow of her mother's bullying, she has lost any hope of her love. This image of a woman unapproachable to another woman close to her recurs--as in ""Cooked,"" in which an elegant 60-ish charmer, tender and kind to all except the sister she manipulates, sits calmly beside a window and seems to her sibling, by a trick of light, ""outside, beyond the glass."" And in ""Pieta,"" another loving woman collects miserable people--from a dying son to a cosseted husband. Says her daughter: ""She's so good I sometimes hate her."" There are also wearying marriages: a wife is ""locked in"" by a self-absorbed 77-year-old husband; a woman tamps down a truly generous impulse to help a likable deadbeat in order to serve the interests of the family unit; two women lose their sanity--one a survivor of a deadly ""perfect marriage,"" the other a wife whose husband unthinkingly ""used her competence and enthusiasm."" Included, too, are two moving tales concerning encroaching deafness, and a teen-ager's telephoned introduction to the father she's never seen, the latter story bright with humor and charm. Excellent little-magazine pieces, some of which may hortatorily jump the gun. Nonetheless, these are memorable original insights into lives whose energies are sagely shored up--and from which there are no more epiphanies.