If output were a measure of greatness, DeMarinis would be in the pantheon of writers. The stories in this ninth book of his fiction, however, are deft and skillful but only fleetingly out of the ordinary or penetrating. Quick with detail and character and setting, almost as if in textbook examples of how to write successful short stories, DeMarinis repeatedly finds his angle and pursues it, however familiarly. Sometimes more satisfying are those pieces set farther in the past, as if distance offered them a kind of natural weight and more memorable texture. A boy's friend gets polio in the expertly period-detailed 1945 of ``Safe Forever''; a skinny teen-ager in 1955 stumbles into his first love affair after basic training (``An Airman's Goodbye''); and in the coincidence-forced ``Horizontal Snow'' (set in 1958), a hitchhiking college student witnesses an unusual childbirth. Set closer to the present, the stories become more journalistically topical, as in the facing-death-by-cancer story ``Paraiso: An Elegy,'' or in the return-to-the-holism-of-nature tale, ``Wilderness,'' in which, on a camping trip, a personality conflict ends in murder. These stories take on the themes of modern angst and of civilization's living on borrowed time, but their expert craftedness draws attention to itself, pulling its material behind it, and seldom generates feeling. The domestic tribulations of a man who writes potboiler romance novels (under the pen name Veronica LaMonica) comprise a familiar and at times tendentious satire of commercialism versus art (``God Bless America'' and ``Her Alabaster Skin''); ``The Whitened Man'' evokes a futuristic landscape in a present-day housing complex; ``Insulation'' is an all-stops-out verbal tour de force about a man who attracts electricity; and ``Rudderless Fiction'' is a tongue-in-cheek less in how-including authorial disappointments- to write short fiction. In all, capable portrayals of ordinary lives in representative DeMarinis.