Francis writes two kinds of stories, basically. One is a contrapuntal arrangement of various voices around an incident. The other is a Virginia Woolf-like burrowing into a passionate mind. And his most ambitious pieces combine these two approaches: ""A Chronicle of Love"" depicts the ecstatic self-destruction by a young Southerner deadened by guilt over a suicidal girlfriend; and ""Naming Things"" evokes the mute injury of old people at being cast off to nursing homes. But even at his simplest, Francis deals with delicate shifts, as one character blends into another: a wife is drawn to her husband's brother; a widow does not realize that her neighbor was once, in the past, a lover of her late husband's. And when Francis is successful at this mixing of mental states, as in ""November Afternoons"" (a dying old woman is comfortable only with the husband she'd divorced long ago), he can be clear and affecting. Usually, however, he presents these person-to-person transformations in purple, heaving, club-footed prose that is ultimately confusing; more than a few times you'll lose your way among who's who. So: stories that are often artful and probing. . . but too frequently tripped up over their own fancy footwork.