Nine stories in a first collection that won 1995's First Series Award for short fiction. ``Wicked'' is about a middle-aged librarian who has a brief, wild affair, breaks it off, and then begins corresponding with a prisoner who turns out to be the same man. It ends inconclusively, but is remarkable for the lies the woman tells herself and, not least, because it fails to invoke even one stereotype about librarians. In the title piece, an old man whose wife has Alzheimer's tries to piece together the story of his small-town life for a local historian. He revisits old sorrows and makes a minor mess of things before fate hands him a tiny gift. In ``What We Have Here,'' a woman comes to a western lodge to sort out her problems, which, as in all of Becker's stories, center around the lies she tells herself. During a power outage, guests sit drinking and swapping tales, all of them lies; when the woman offers to tell the truth, no one wants to hear it. Then there's ``Signs and Wonders,'' about a troubled woman who goes to a garage sale in order to buy an exercise bike. Someone is dying in the household she enters, and she is so moved by what she witnesses that her own troubles fall away. The final story, ``The Excitement Begins,'' concerns a lonely Wyoming rancher, about to turn 50, who strikes up a conversation with a woman fleeing her old life in Iowa. The lies these two seemingly unremarkable people have told themselves over the years dissolve as a future for them both is revealed-- resulting, daringly but believably, in a happy ending. An entertaining debut collection, often quite reminiscent of Raymond Carver's work, about quiet, decent people undercut by their faulty images of themselves.