Two of Clayton's stories display a springy talent for collage and juxtaposition: they fly with names and jokes and references. In ""Cambridge is Sinking,"" he evokes post-Sixties edginess, the lack of direction among a group of Cambridge housemates. And in ""Prewar Quality,"" an independent old aunt dies--but is brought back to life as relatives go through her effects. When Clayton tries to dramatize his material--largely domestic--in a more focused way, however, the stories run into problems. In ""An Old Three A.M. Story,"" an unstable divorced wife makes a Christmas visit to her children and ex-husband in Boston, cruelly offering and then withdrawing the idea of taking the daughter back with her to live in New York: the story is realistic, slightly melodramatic, yet shapeless--if reminiscent in its leisurely dialogue of some sections of Philip Roth's Letting Go. Similarly, ""Part-Time Father""--about a divorced father's unease in his relationship with his children--has the tendency to run on endlessly, with the story put into the mouth of an anguished adult. And ""Bodies Like Mouths""--featuring a boarding-house cast of characters--meanders too. But in his title story--about a boyhood epiphany at the shore, about sexuality and mothers--Clayton brings his talent into finely controlled action: the boy's innocence is gradually but specifically rubbed off, leaving real emotional affect, more touching than any adult maneuver. In sum: an uneven but richly promising collection, with one exceptional entry.