A German native and Australian author evokes the rich texture of modern-day Jewish-Australian life in these 16 engagingly down- to-earth tales--first published in Australia, where they won the 1992 National Steel Award, and Brett's first collection to be published here. In ``Moishe Zimmerman's Wife,'' 38-year-old Ruthie Brot succumbs to decades of sexual frustration by having an affair with Abe Lipshitz, a married man passed along by a fellow aerobics student. Not far down the road, in ``Something Shocking,'' adultery works a more evil magic on one of Ruthie's sisters-in-law, Susan Silver, who reacts to her own husband's extramarital affair by painting ``My husband is schtooping a shikse'' across the front of their house. Other members of Ruthie's tightknit Melbourne circle have their own, equally all-encompassing stories, most highlighting the tension between the Jewish past and present and each getting fair exposure here. These include, in ``Half-There,'' the obsession of Ruthie's other sister-in-law, Golda Goldenfein, with her experience as the daughter of concentration camp survivors; in ``What God Wants,'' Ruthie's father's announcement that his much younger Filipino wife is going to have a child; and, in ``Moving Meals,'' Abe's wife's frantic efforts to lose herself in volunteer work until her husband's love affair has run its course. As the months pass, few here are ever actually abandoned, though many temporarily stray, while gossip is energetically circulated via telephone calls, lunches, and the all-important weekly women's gin rummy game. Just when the tales of bed-hopping and scandal- mongering begin to wear on the soul, one of the more thoughtful protagonists, mildly neurotic Susan Cohen, flies off to New York with her family, where her sudden solitude allows for welcome depth and texture after the chattier Melbourne stories. Brett's abrupt, unadorned style can be off-putting, but, as with many of her characters, one grows fond in the end. Sketches throughout by David Rankin, the author's husband.