Character is at the center of all fiction, but it operates differently in opposing genres: the novel requires the active performer, the short story the passive one. We usually speak of difficult encounters which the protagonist in a novel, by virtue of his supposed heroic durability, is expected to overcome, while with the short story we are content with a particular mood or incident or idea, through which a character is revealed. The short story depends on a melancholic illumination or bizarre occurrence, the novel on growth or radical change. Most of the characters in George P. Elliott's collection are either people who never quite come to grips with what troubles them, as in the excellent title story where a middle aged widow ends up facing her lonely future with as much emotional confusion as when we first met her, or people suddenly confronted with some outlandish phenomenon altering their everyday existence in an ambiguous or unfinished way, as in ""Into the Cone of Cold,"" a mildly science-fiction tale about an English professor who loses his sense of self after incarceration in an experimental machine. Naturally, the short story is closer to life as we live it, since the human condition is made up of static injuries or inexplicable twists of fate. Elliott is basically a moralist with an old fashioned penchant for dignity amid adversity or perversion, but he has a good modernist ear for dialogue and a sensitive feeling for both the aimless psychological and social pressures of suburban America and the ironic interplay of humanist values and harsh circumstance. At his best, he has veracity and validity.