Gibson's first collection of stories--The Butterfly Ward (1980)--showed some glimpses of talent in evoking the fragile, claustrophobic world of the insane. This slim new group of seven pieces, however, deals with less extreme situations, and Gibson seems unable to scale down her feverish, artsy prose appropriately--with dank, often amateurish results. ""Dark Angel, Pale Fire"" is a near-embarrassing reworking of a hoary theme: the young artistic white woman's doomed passion for an exotic, often (as here) goopily romanticized black man: ""the Dark Angel. . . . His happiness under my skin like a beloved disease?' Equally banal and predictable: a study of a family-imprisoned, 42-year-old spinster straining to get free (""We are a still life! A goddamn still life and I am going to change that! I am! I am!""); the correspondence between a Vietnam G.I. and the girl back home, with the inevitable maudlin windup (""And today I stood on the subway platform screaming bloody and crying because I never cried for you, not once and now it is all too late, it is all over now""); ""Brian Tattoo, his Life and Times""--in which an unstable writer is pushed by her social-worker husband into writing an article about a young hood (""I do not want to know this, any of this . . . let me know all of the lies!""). And the most workable premise here--a much-married man, his possessive Jewish mother, his latest estranged wife--is wrecked not only by Gibson's self-conscious style but by her appalling tin ear for ethnic dialogue (""Marry a Jewess and give me some real grandchildren""). All in all--a disappointing follow-up to a mildly promising debut.