Ten subdued, unusually well-written stories set in Montana and the New South, most featuring that American staple: the sensitive but emotionally blocked guy who feels closer to nature than to his fellow men. Bass (Platte River, 1994, etc.) writes in prose scraped clean of excess and has selected each story with obvious care. His collection begins evocatively with ""The History of Rodney"" -- two damaged white lovers live in a ghost town created when the Mississippi River switched channels -- and then slips down a notch with ""Swamp Boy,"" a tale of childhood cruelty directed at an odd boy who turns out to be the narrator. The three subsequent stories, however, ""Fires,"" ""The Valley,"" and ""Antlers,"" weave a wry and magical portrait of a Montana community on the edge of the wilderness. ""Fires"" quickens the pulse with its portrait of an acclaimed female runner's visit for a summer of high-altitude training: the narrator's descriptions of his wonder at the runner's finely honed body and psyche smoulder with the fury of a brushfire. ""The Valley"" limns the rituals that hold this attenuated community together before its members soar into a moment of collective madness. And ""Antlers"" moves from the comedy of Halloween -- when everyone wears deer or elk antlers -- into terror as the narrator realizes the madness behind an obsessed bowhunter's polite smiles. Of the rest, only ""The Legend of Pig-Eye"" develops a similar power, though it suffers from belonging to the well-worn genre of boxer-in-training fiction. The problem throughout may be with Bass's main character -- a Nick Adams of the '90s who's moved to the wilds to escape humanity's dangerous attachments. A few more deeply explored relationships would make a difference. Some gems, and the rest highly readable, if under-emoted: worth the effort.