The best of this year's batch of short-story collections from the University of Illinois Press (though hardly in a league with such '78 and '79 standouts as Max Schott or Jean Thompson). Hughes has a dependable radar for ""essential"" characters and situations: a boy oversees his younger brothers and sister while their mother is away at work--and suffers at their hands; a widow takes out her rage on a hitchhiker; a New York-bred Episcopal priest is sent to Vermont--which he loves excessively, to the point of blunder upon blunder, becoming more ""New England"" than any of the locals; a tasteful, privileged older woman shrivels inside over her life's neatness. But beyond the assured handling of irony is something rarer: Hughes isn't afraid of action. In her three best stories here there is either an unexpected grappling or a collapse that transcends and further sparks a compelling situation. In ""The Foreigner in the Blood,"" a famous, now-senile psychiatrist skips tauntingly around the mountaintop where his daughter has brought him for an outing. In ""The Judge,"" a lawyer trying to help an old Mexican benefit from a claim finds himself being nearly forcibly drowned. And in ""Luz,"" an old crippled man dies vigorously in the arms of both wife and mistress. Each of these stories has an indelible physical posture, which in itself alerts you to a writer whose well-crafted fiction is more than run-of-the-mill. A solid collection, with a trio of impressive high points.