In his very finest work, like the novel The Easter Parade (1976), Yates sets a lock on the embarrassments of the women--shabby, genteel, mostly WASP--who are just barely scraping-by in post-WW II New York; and it's a lock that he doesn't release until the fading characters finally yield up a certain defeated grace despite themselves. So it's not surprising that the best story in this collection--""Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired""--centers on one such poor woman. She's an unsuccessful and pretentious sculptress trying to raise a son and daughter alone in the Village in the Forties--and the lucklessness is so vivid here, the self-illusion so dogged, that you read while at the same time wishing, out of discomforted politeness, that you weren't. But once Yates has delivered himself of this powerful story, the one that opens the book, he manages little else that either tops it or effectively contrasts with it. Two stories essentially duplicate the opening one. Two others--the title story and the long, shambling ""Saying Goodbye to Sally""--are 1950s-ish variations on the same theme: How did it all get so bad, so mingy? And, throughout, there's a lack of pulse, perhaps because Yates is primarily a novelist: he seems to approach each tale with novel-sized hopes--and when he finds the smaller size starting to bind, he either quickly draws all the juice out (see ""A Natural Girl"") or lets the tale run on too long, hoping that it will resolve itself. His grey-toned prose, so effective in the novels--where it doesn't flinch from a single desuetude--becomes, in the stories, oddly smug and boring. And--with that one exception--these vignettes of social failure and cruelty lack the grace or force of Yates at his best.