A profound and mature debut collection. In these 12 stories, Mogan creates a memorable cast of characters and places: Niobe, the black maid who arranges for her granddaughter to have a better life than she did in ``A Certain Lot or Parcel of Land''; Kenny and Jack, the lovers dying of AIDS together in ``See to Appreciate''; the Golden Gardens home of the title story where life is more real than in the real world; and the dust-blown West Texas town of Floydada, in ``See Ya Later, Floydada,'' ``perched on its shrivelled haunches.'' The author conveys a great deal in her brief tales about the psyches of her characters, and about the complexity of Southern society. The locations- -Louisiana and Texas--become familiar through these pages, and Mogan's characters, too, form themselves into a community of sorts, some reappearing in a number of stories. Each vignette is also a world unto itself, sometimes shocking, sometimes tragic, occasionally hopeful. What is most striking is the writer's ability to approach her subjects from all sides: She flows in and out of different characters' consciousnesses: a five-year-old El Salvadoran refugee and the conductor of the train that hurtles towards him through the Texas wilderness in ``Desparachos''; the 11- year-old Rachel and her slow-thinking, docilely fanatic grandmother, both anticipating the imminent end of the world in ``Age of Reason.'' Mogan challenges boundaries between sanity and madness, religion and fanaticism, love and death, black and white. In two stories, ``Wade in the Water'' and ``Syzygy,'' she uses twins as physical manifestations of duality. And yet these stories never suggest a Manichaean view of the universe. The dichotomies that tumble around each other are difficult to sort out. The reader watches them shift and turn like a perpetually changing kaleidoscope, mesmerized. Every story here is perfectly round and lustrous; together they glow like a string of flawless pearls.