An entertaining and occasionally dazzling first collection from Kincaid, the Florida-born author of the novel Crossing Blood (1992). With a single exception, these eight stories focus on girls or women who can't make sense out of their relationships with men or with their own addled and demanding emotions. And even that exception, ``Why Richard Can't,'' looks sympathetically at a middle-aged English professor's unwillingness to change or to leave the wife he's comfortable with for the woman student whose mind and body alike excite his interest. Too many of Kincaid's characters, in fact, talk away at us from conditions of frustrating stasis: the girl who can't make her inattentive, straying father notice her (in ``Pretty Please''), or the twice-married woman who knows she'll fail again if she takes the lover she's considering (in the smartly titled ``Total Recoil''). The good news is that Kincaid's women are expert nonstop talkers, vernacular virtuosi who can make you howl with a deftly placed one-liner (``I don't have anything against boys from reform school''), or sit bolt upright upon hearing a forthright woman's description of the guilt felt by an unfaithful husband (``like his penis was the arrow on a compass and he suddenly remembered it was always supposed to be pointing north''). And two of the stories are flat-out wonderful. ``Just Because They've Got Papers Doesn't Mean They Aren't Still Dogs'' traces with wry compassion the education in female solidarity and self- knowledge that expands the horizons and strengthens the character of a childless small-town football coach's wife. And the moving title piece portrays, without a shred of sentimentality, the sexual and intellectual awakening of a young wife and mother who learns she's dying of cancer, and scorns to go gently into anybody's good night. Good, gritty work from a vigorous talent. Kincaid may well blossom into one of the better storytellers around.