Essentially (with one bridging exception) two groups of short stories disparate in tone and intent, but in a sense, two aspects of the author's Long Winded Lady of The New Yorker: a lightning appreciation of the ridiculous, and a quiet recognition of the minutiae by which men and women reckon loss. The ""Herbert's Retreat"" tales about the antics of the fatuous denizens of that restricted community-with-a-view on the East Hudson are baldly hilarious. Miss Brennan, although working a polar distance from Lillian Ross' Bronx milieu, molds her clay pigeons with the same careful exactitude so that shooting them down is all too easy. Ballooning with almost endearing self-satisfaction, the weekenders at Herbert's retreat -- observed with raucous appreciation by the Irish servants -- struggle through the trials of one-upmanship. The second group of stories again touches on the lives of the Derdons and Bagots (In and Out of Never-Never Land, 1969) -- Dublin stories of love and fear, possession or the hunger to possess. Christmas Eve opens up the night to old fears but also offers connections with ""the common practices of family life. . . the only true realities most of us ever know."" An old woman bitterly mourned the dissolution of her childhood family to which she had looked for thrift and order but now, all siblings dead, she prepares a welcoming home for all their furniture again: ""It was never too late to set things right."" And there are stories about Rose Derdon and her mother Mary -- women driven to day dreams, blind encounters and isolation containing their need to give. Again within the walls and halls of small houses and lives -- the echo of love or its absence. A fine collection.