Gritty and believable, the characters in this fine debut collection may often have the odds stacked against them, but they refuse to give up on happiness. A number of the nine stories here are set in the small Georgia town of Tyler, and Gover expertly sketches the subtle distinctions of race and class that affect everyday interactions. In the excellent title piece, a black girl from the river (who passes for white) tries to make her white boyfriend see the town's hypocritical attitude toward the river girls, who are scorned by day but seduced by its sons at night: ``So, white boys like you come prowling down by the river on Friday nights, and you find girls with dark eyes...and you don't even remember their names the next day.'' Another Tyler story recounts the rise of a black singer and his realization that his voice attracts white girls. His efforts to explain this attraction to a black woman singer explore the nexus of race and gender; but, at the end of their tense exchange, they have still failed to understand each other. In this story, as in others, Gover is adept at portraying the intricacies of relations between men and women. The mistress in ``Mistress of Cats'' is a fiercely independent woman who works at a perfume counter in town and keeps her many married lovers on a schedule of assignations. A surprise encounter with her now-married high-school boyfriend and his family in the supermarket impels her to have a baby. After the birth, she accepts gifts from her lovers for the newborn but feels that the child is her creation alone. The heroine in ``Necessary Distance'' is afraid to let her boyfriend fully in to her heart. But she slowly learns to trust her gentle lover and to sense that ``if I jumped, maybe he'd follow.'' Gover's characters radiate humanity and integrity in every situation to which her spare, assured writing subjects them. An impressive first collection.