An impressive collection of stories--some 20 years' worth-- from the Russian author of the highly acclaimed novel The Time: Night (1992): a virtuoso whose work displays both Chekhovian delicacy and Tolstoyan moral force and resonance. No writer, though, is more relentlessly contemporary. Petrushevskaya's territory is the politically unstable and economically endangered Russian urban milieu of the 1970s and 1980s. Her stories, divided here into ``Histories'' and ``Monologues,'' are uncompromisingly realistic, frequently downbeat, yet always leavened and varied by sardonic humor and the implicit background presence of a buoyant survivor's instinct. Their province is woman's fate (with few exceptions, her male characters are essentially opaque). Vividly rendered protagonists include a reputedly ``perfect'' young woman destined to live a frustratingly unfulfilled life (in ``The Wall''); a watchful girl who learns how to avoid the marital unhappiness that destroys her parents (in ``Father and Mother''); a pregnant young wife who leads a tense ``ambiguous existence'' while dwelling with her insensitive husband's suspicious mother (in ``Nets and Snares''); and the hopeful heroine of ``Immortal Love,'' who learns to her sorrow that elusive bliss may be nothing more than ``the instinct to propagate the species.'' Petrushevskaya composes with equal skill both brief sketches (``Another Land,'' ``Crossing the Field'') and such densely packed longer tales as ``The Lookout Point,'' which surveys the life and loves of a well-meaning but faithless seducer who simply cannot commit himself to any of the women smitten by him, and ``The Little Girl,'' the flinty story of an unhappy wife and mother's relationship with her errant husband and with the apparently friendly prostitute who lives next door. All of the women here, despite the variety of their personalities and circumstances, might well join in the rueful litany of one of the characters: ``the grass keeps growing, and life itself...seems indestructible. Ah, but it is destructible, it is destructible''. The work of a major talent, quite possibly the best Russian writer of her generation.