Brown's voice in this debut collection of stories is largely gentle, Southern-modulated--yet also cleareyed and wise-funny. Some pieces are sensitive but conventional: a daughter-in-law taking her husband's dying mother for what is probably the woman's last dress (""New Dresses""), a small-town grocer's class resentments (""The Barbecue""). But in others, race--and the elaborate dumb show the South has evolved to deal with it: ""the whole Pandora box. . .that would open up to silence us completely""--has an oblique but powerful presence: see ""Beyond New Forks"" and ""The Cure."" An unutterable embarrassment between blacks and whites is something Brown catches wonderfully. The most artful story here is ""Disturber of the Peace""--a Peter Taylor-like comedy about a sad, spurned young woman who feels doubly tormented when a church across the street from her apartment erects an electrified cross. Straight through, Brown here resists symbol--which has the effect of increasing the strange humor as well as accentuating the plight. A mixed (but mostly choice) bag by a good new writer.