A debut collection of 11 stories--slender, understated, sometimes anorexic--deals with the conflicts experienced by southern black people. Of mixed class and education, they're characters who share an ability to find humor in a variety of trying situations. Sometimes racial harassment is mixed with a sexual attraction--as when Thompson, a yardman in his 30s recently separated from his wife and kids, goes to rent a TV, and the white saleswoman asks him what people call him ""on the street."" ""He thought of names like Slick, Stretch, and Popeye, none of which people called him."" She cross-examines him about references and even takes a Polaroid, yet Thompson asks her to be his date at a wedding. In ""Squabble,"" an unemployed teacher can hardly believe his luck when a beautiful art student goes dancing with him in a seedy dive where he's applying to be bartender; ""Look at her slam-dunking Dog,"" someone says watching her dance. They trade light insults--squabble--challenge each another to kiss, but don't: they circle, provoke, fail to connect. Other characters include a girl who has her pick of colleges but stays near home to be secure, and nearly gets abducted by a childhood sweetheart; a young woman having a hopeless affair with her middle-aged boss; and drug-runners. What they have in common is a kind of disarming innocence, a trust in the world that the world continually betrays. In the most developed (and hopeful) story, ""On Earth,"" a young man runs away from home and works in a quarry while attending night school. Attracted by a fellow student, he rents an attic room in the house she shares with her mother and five-year, old son. The gifts rejects him; but when her mother has a stroke, he takes care of her child, and by the end there's a chance he might become part of the new family he's been looking for. While place and characters are vividly drawn, most of the pieces here have an un-finished quality. A student of the ambiguous ending pioneered by his mentor, Raymond Carver, Holman often fails to deliver more than a mood-though that mood feels crisp and new.