A debut collection of 16 stories by novelist Bache (Safe Passage, 1988; Festival in Fire Season, 1992), this year's winner of the Willa Cather Fiction Prize. In the title story, 53-year-old Cora Russ, who ``couldn't imagine the passion to live persisting in a soft, wrinkled body...,'' decides that she ``might as well be useful'' as she deals with menopause, with son Jason who's into puberty with a vengeance, and with her job as director of a domestic-violence center. Set during the Gulf War, the story brings Cora if not to rebirth at least to resigned acceptance--``grateful...that theirs [the soldiers'] was a distant war and hers so close that neither youth nor age could reduce her to watching it on television.'' Other stories are equally adept at keeping three balls in the air: in ``Rayfield the Presser,'' Beryl, almost seven, overhears father Leonard, a prominent architect, prepare to testify at the McCarthy hearings. Here, Bache dramatizes the tension of the times, with its possibility of blacklisting and loss of livelihood, while staying inside the little girl's point of view. In ``Pigeons,'' 80-year-old Esther DuBois is summoned to court because her neighbors the Fines want her to stop feeding, and thus attracting, the local pigeons to their block. Esther, moving between moments of clarity and the stupor of fatigue, goes to Legal Aid at the behest of her daughter, is finally fined a hundred dollars and told to stop feeding the birds, but refuses to lose her honor or her courage. A large-hearted collection that ranges over space and time to tell the stories of women who withstand various social pressures and remain only themselves.