Kumin's short stories are usually built around a single metaphor, an interesting setting, a predicament quickly cauterized. Her main character is most frequently a professional and cultured woman whose children are grown and gone, who has neat and civilized affairs, who enjoys tasting of village life in small New England towns. And, if Kumin's style is generally bland and flat--her sentences contain a nubbin of information each, then go on, showing no urge to build one upon the other--the best pieces here offer fact-filled, stately fiction that holds the interest in a sure and experienced grip. The stand-outs: the serious, graceful ""A Traveler's Hello,"" about a friend's dying; ""On This Short Day of Frost and Sun,"" which features a quick, wholly believable liaison; and ""These Gifts,"" the anatomy of an unhappy young wife's self-recognition. A quiet, half-successful collection, then: sometimes annoyingly unformed and pointless but often impressive in its idiosyncratic, solid intelligence.