Straightforward, low-key stories of depressed (for the most part) Southern life--from the author of County Woman, The Wintering, and The Morning and the Evening. Two of these ten pieces, in fact, are quietly harrowing sequences from the latter novel (1961), centering on a simple-minded 40-year-old man named Jake: in ""The Morning and the Evening,"" he attends a picture show in a tent, trying hard to remember what his mother told him about how to behave--with hapless results; in ""The Sound of Silence,"" Jake's all-protecting mother has died, and his inevitable decline into total withdrawal begins. Elsewhere, in rather dated but still-effective vignettes, Williams looks at racial integration from the white viewpoint: an old farmer who has always gotten along fine with blacks, eating with them in the field, is shell-shocked by the same proximity at a lunch counter (""They just set right down there, with me""); but his grandson is young enough to change--like the teenage girl in another story who realizes, thanks to the arrival of a black student at school, that, contrary to local lore, ""Of course Negroes kiss each other when they make love."" There are two plain, sad sketches of black Southerners in near-hopeless attempts to better their lives: an unlucky sharecropper; a woman who must jeopardize her job--""the first one that was not cleaning house for a white lady""--to rush home and see to a wayward child. And the other stories feature the lonely lives of slightly-better-off white folks: mothers whose children have gone away; an alcoholic, bridge-playing housewife; and (in the one piece with flickers of humor) a longtime bachelor who feels liberated by the death of his oppressive sister/housemate. . . till he nearly winds up married to a neighbor lady. Typically, this tale ends with its message flatly announced: ""It was too bad they would have to sit half a mile apart, suffering their loneliness, but he could not come out of himself after all these years."" Yet, if far from subtle or complex, these small, unremarkable stories have firm integrity and gentle power--in their dirt-real details, fuss-less prose, and spare compassion.