Masters (Amy's Children, 1988) didn't start producing fiction until her mid-50s, and died in 1986 after a short, prolific career (five books). Here, her second US publication--a collection of stories being marketed as a novel--concerns hardscrabble life in small-town Australia in 1935: D.H. Lawrence-like in its evocation of provincial struggle, it is a superb, breathtaking performance. Masters' world is one of pinched faces, pinched minds, and uneasy relations between owners and tenants. Some characters calculate petty advantages; others, impoverished or disordered, simply make do. In ""Stan and Mary, Mary and Stan,"" the prosperous Mrs. Rossmore fears that her children will be tainted by contact with their poor tenants, the Jessups, and, in fact, her son Stan and Mary Jessup secretly become sweethearts. ""Madge and Patty, Patty and Madge"" finds Mrs. Rossmore (an object of satire) depressed because Start has dropped out of the university, and ""The Wedding"" dramatizes the bittersweet climax of the young romance. Meanwhile, ""Not the Marrying Kind"" is a rich character portrait of Millie Clarke, born out of wedlock and doomed to spinsterhood. Several chapters portray strong women: when the Boyles' lazy father (""In Cobargo Now"") finally rents a house with a ceiling, the mother declares it ""the most wonderful thing you ever saw!""; in ""A Soft and Simple Woman,"" a mother tagged as unprotective by townsfolk in fact pulls a shotgun on her vile-tempered husband to protect her son; and Mrs. Jessup makes ""Scones Every Day"" until, worn out, she tells her husband, ""I feel crook, Joe,"" and dies. In the title story, set at the local hotel, subtle shifts in relations between the owners and their worker-tenants are orchestrated for panoramic effect. Biting, heartbreaking tales: deftly crafted, believable, resonant, and, often enough, unforgettable.