Evocative stories about the middle class, mostly African- American and male, in search of themselves, from McKnight (I Get on the Bus, 1990; Moustapha's Eclipse, 1988). In settings ranging from a mythic past, with a detour through hell to a totalitarian and divided US of the future, McKnight's characters, consistently sensitive and serious, try to survive in a world where both men and women must be approached with wariness, racism is endemic, and love is at best equivocal. A brilliant and talented young man, rejected by the woman he loves, flees to an Atlantis-like continent where he writes his great life's work--but in the process also realizes that he has forgotten the name of his beloved (``The Homunculus: A Novel in One Chapter''). In the O. Henry Award-winning title story, a young middle-class black boy, whose father, a professional soldier, is serving in Vietnam, must confront his feelings about his racial identity when a despised fellow black classmate rescues him from a bully. In other notable pieces: a sensitive and shy young man, devastated by his mother's death, overdoses on drugs and lands in Hell, where he must be the endless life of a party (``Roscoe in Hell''); a grandmother, watching her daughter violently beat her misbehaving grandson, realizes that the ``sickening hissing fire she heard'' went right back through herself to the ``generations of slaves and slave- keeper'' (``Into Night''); and another young man, once in the army, remembers in ``Peacetime'' ``a pretty weird time'' with friends, now dead, who almost deserved a war--``to give these guys something to do.'' Some stories work better than others, but McKnight--to his credit--tries to find a distinctive voice, neither macho nor maudlin, as he explores the big three: race, class, and gender. A writer to watch.