Winner of a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, Canin is the real thing: a writer gifted with the mixture of vagrant narrative approach and unfussy lyricism that results when that rarest of all literary boons, imagination, is strongly at play. Here, there is some of the sweet stateliness of Cheever (especially in the title story: a man trying to save a cherished tree); a sure hand at family diversity (""American Beauty""--a siblings story that manages in a dozen or so pages to do what Robert Bosworth's not unimpressive Crooked Hearts needed a whole book to accomplish); and a feeling for the love and pity between children and parents that slips just under clichÃ‰. In ""Pitch Memory,"" a mother's shoplifting is covered for by her grown daughter, without any obvious embarrassment or hurt but as a realized favor owed; in ""The Year of Getting to Know Us,"" a tattered family's brief fling at closeness is punctured by an enormously tired yet gorgeous interchange between a father and his suspicious teen-aged son: "" '. . .You don't have to get to know me. You know why?' 'Why?' I asked. 'You don't have to get to know me,' he said, 'because one day you're going to grow up and then you're going to be me.'"" There are some weaker stories here, like ""Lies"" (all tone) and ""We Are Nighttime Travellers"" (in which Canin's unforced powers of sympathy turn overly elegiac), but this is one of the strongest first story-collections in years, from a generous writer with heart and style and the power to surprise.