A debut collection from a remarkably empathetic and versatile new talent. Many of the 11 stories collected here are set in a carefully delineated Silicon Valley where ``ordinary'' characters--a deliveryman, a harried young gardener, two plucky children of a real-estate salesman and his wife--find deliverance from fear and stasis. In ``Jump, Jack,'' the protagonist reluctantly agrees to take his frightened five-year-old grandson on a camping trip. Jack has only recently given up life as a vagrant and taken a job as a deliveryman, and now finds (to his mingled relief and dismay) while revisiting one of his old haunts with his grandson that the violence that once defined his life has departed. In ``Only the Lonely Heart,'' a generous, caring woman always unlucky in love opens her home to an ex-boyfriend's young son and his pregnant girlfriend, gaining a new baby to raise as well as some true understanding of her own needs. ``Chinese Tulip'' tracks 24 hours in the life of an overworked Palo Alto landscape gardener named Ruth, whose partner Louise is in the hospital giving birth to her first child (and having a hard time of it) and whose teenage helper LeFawn is in an emotional crisis. Nevertheless, after she rescues Mrs. Ulrich's hedges and Mr. Hinckly's tulip bed, Ruth resuscitates her own dreams of starting a mail-order tulip business. In ``You Can See Jupiter with the Naked Eye if You Know Where to Look,'' a 12-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister, while attempting to aid their hapless father, have an unexpected encounter with a motorcycle gang in the hills above their town. And, finally, in one of several stories dealing with eccentric fathers and their bewildered adult sons, ``Breathe at Every Other Stroke'' shows Stewart, whose alcoholic father long ago drowned in Lake Washington, at last learning to swim when he becomes a father himself. A rich, readable, wonderfully varied collection.