James Alan McPherson's new stories may lack the fury of Hue and Cry, his first, deservedly praised collection, but they are distinguished by a disarming gentleness and grace--a mellow, even wistful, attitude toward people in conflict, toward our gratings against each other. Admittedly, there are a few too many pat endings here. But--when an alcoholic black woman shows a sophisticated understanding of the white legal bureaucracy or when a man remembers what it meant to be in love (and powerless) in the fourth grade--curtains rise on some wonderfully ironic human comedies. And-in a man's glimpses of his beautiful and complicated ex-wife as she receives a community award, in the meeting of cousins whose lives have taken different, perhaps equally ill-fated directions--sadness and tenderness strike a balance that averts sentimentality. Nor does McPherson shy away from the bottom-line eloquence of brutality: a quiet post-office clerk's maiming of his girlfriend; an illiterate mechanic's murder of the employer who has humiliated him. Prismatic revelations of moments remembered, semishared, recounted to others and argued about, in these twelve stories, limn the distressingly tenuous nature of what we can ever really know and signal the welcome return of a gifted and versatile storyteller.