Brisk and (generally) unsentimental stories of New England rural life, by an emerging New Hampshire writer whose flinty wit may remind readers of Maine's Carolyn Chute or Vermont's E. Annie Proulx. Of the 19 tales gathered here, several have previously appeared in Rule's Wood Heat (1992, not reviewed). Her narrative situations tend toward monotonyunappreciated housewives, selfish and inconsiderate husbands, ignored and inquisitive kids predominatebut a real unity is gained by her fierce concentration on people who lead stunted, unfulfilled lives and know in their bones they were meant for something better. The collection begins impressively, with an inventive image of down-eastern sheer cussedness at a contentious school-district meeting (``Yankee Curse'') and the tangy title story, in which an embattled woman finds surcease from a lingering illness in adapting her newfound skills as a potter to contemplate voodoo against a self-righteous neighbor. If too many of the subsequent pieces focus on daughters fishing with their fathers, or deprived spouses confronting their overgrown-boy husbands, Rule nevertheless manages several almost- total successes. There's a charming example of her feel for the tensions between stubborn townsfolk and naive newcomers in ``The Widow and the Trapper,'' effectively varied portrayals of the psyches of lonely and misunderstood women in ``Etta Walks'' and ``Ada among the Dogs,'' and a deeply moving, richly metaphoric study of a well-meaning failure in the volume's best story, ``The Fisher Cat.'' Rule knows her fishing, farming, and trapping details and can raise a reader's eyebrows with salty dialogue (``She's not a witch....She's a baptist'') and vigorous imagery (when a Little League base-runner is incorrectly called out, Rule writes, ``They'll have to pry him off this base like a bloodsucker from a swimmer's calf''). This strong book is a bit like a New England barn: rough- edged, with unaccountable gaps and overhangs and nails hammered into places where they're not needed. But it does the job, and looks built to last.