Tender, richly textured stories of children and adults working against their feelings of loss, abandonment, and personal dissolution--in a first collection from this year's winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. A young girl watches her mother blame ``her great speed and recklessness on the car....`Come on, Aqua Nova...We gotta slow down!' '' and fill a grocery cart with syrup (``she adored it, she worshiped it, some overblown verb like that''); the child already knows this will lead to the Delaware State Hospital and is ``heavy with a gut-level knowledge that everyone and her mother in this world was doomed.'' There's lots of doom here, along with efforts to connect: A young widow briefly fills the void with a foreign- looking man and someone else's child; a man, hoping to see his daughter for the first time in three years, falls into a casual friendship at the bus stop; a beleaguered woman, on an excruciating family outing, is drawn to strangers; a dumped wife hopes for a happy vacation in Florida with her sons, but her 12-year-old suddenly drops his usual recitation of nature facts for a frightening outburst. McCafferty looks at morally ambiguous moments in adolescence: a prank played on a neighbor; cruelty to a girl who looks gorgeous only from behind. Much reminiscent memoir-ish writing, plus a couple of stories less conventional in style: an incest survivor's psychic confusion and cold disconnection from husband and adopted child; the jumpy interior monologue of a girl whose father has returned home, deeply disturbed, from war. Fine writing in an often touching debut.