By gathering Beckett's scattered short pieces, Gontarski has created a volume that few may choose to read whole, but that all with an interest in Beckett will welcome. The collection helps show, if nothing else, how Beckett's artistic life and achievement were of a piece; the seeds of his later monumental work are visible even in the earliest piece, ``Assumption,'' with its foreshadowings (``By damming the stream of whispers he had raised the level of the flood . . .'') of the supercharged minimalism that would give Beckett both his philosophic and emotional power. His droll hobos (``My appearance still made people laugh, with that hearty jovial laugh so good for the health'') and his trademark hilarity in the midst of paradoxically barren complexities are firmly in place in pieces like 1946's ``The End'' (``The scene was the familiar one of grandeur and desolation''), ``The Expelled (``the rats poured out, I climbed in''), and ``The Calmative'' (``I don't know when I died''). The post-Joycean explorer's great subject of language and its failures (``Even the words desert you, it's as bad as that'') leads him to long stretches unlikely to enchant the many (``All known all white bare white body fixed one yard legs joined like sewn. Light heat white floor one square yard never seen'') but likely, for others, to deepen the compelling mystery of this high philosophic sculptor of our imprisonment in self and word. The author's last piece, from 1989, is at moments extraordinarily moving: ``There had been a time he would sometimes lift his head enough to see his hands . . . . One laid on the table and the other on the one. At rest after all they did. Lift his past head a moment to see his past hands. Then lay it back on them to rest it too. After all it did.'' A laudable book, and essential for the serious student of Beckett.