A debut collection of 11 sharply etched sketches and stories, most set in East Texas and several originally published in literary quarterlies like Ploughshares or Kansas Quarterly. Ruffin, a poet, is also editor of The Texas Review. In the title piece, Bob Billings, who inherits ``his father's vast holdings in land, oil and banking,'' moves to a large ranch and lives in ``his lonely castle,'' where (according to gossip and local legend) he tells some of the impoverished Mexicans who live on his land that he wants to be their god: If they devote themselves to him, he will take care of their material needs. On the day that he plans to deliver his gospel to them, however, he disappears. The story, told by the cowboys who worked for Billings, is effectively enigmatic. ``The Fox,'' the opening sketch, is about an unhappy farmer's wife who feels ``at times...hate, at other times mere indifference'' for her husband. Driven almost mad by this unhappiness and ambivalence, she finally plunges her hand into an oven-hot pie, ``where it stayed until the burning stopped and there was no feeling left at all.'' Ruffin is best when displaying such near-mad tension: in ``The Beast Within,'' a couple on their way to Houston have car trouble and stop for help at a house where a woman with a gun holds them hostage overnight before they get free. Likewise, in ``Storm,'' another couple--who gave up an urban life for ``one of the sorriest East Texas farms''--study an approaching storm before the husband runs into it and disappears ``like some enchanted boy trying to fly.'' Such moments and images--set in a Texas where landscape only emphasizes loneliness and obsession--make even the less effective fictions here striking.