Williams' early stories--published in literary magazines and for some reason hardly in evidence in this collection--had to them a shaded, corkscrewing, surreal power, something which also showed up in her fine first novel, State of Grace. But most of the stories in this volume unfortunately share the oppressive and claustrophobic dankness of Williams' much less successful second novel, The Changeling. There's a reiterated family grouping in nearly all of them: a disaffected young woman, her child, and her always-ready-to-leave lover or husband; and this woman floats through each story on a river of Novocaine. (""She got up and began picking up candy wrappers that were scattered around the room and putting them in her empty glass. She was thirty-three years old. She thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald's line that American lives have no second act."") With this disjointed, dissociated style, then, only stories concerning death and illness--because they have some stubborn corporeal link--seem to work at all here: ""Traveling to Pridesup,"" ""The Farm,"" ""Taking Care."" And though occasional runic statements scattered here and there (""Women suffer from the loss of a secret once known"") do provide footholds of intelligent purpose, the overall impression is of a sensibility pulverized and made sulky--and the worst stories seem like parodies of the hanging-around-helpless school of contemporary American fiction. A disappointing collection from a once-so-promising writer.