A novella and four stories introduce in English a highly interesting modern Italian writer, the pseudonymous Ezio Comparoni (192052), for whom possibly excessive claims are made in a vividly partisan introduction contributed by translator Botsford. A polymathic prodigy whose first book appeared when he was 15, d'Arzo was a stylist committed to ellipsis and understatement, a highly literary writer reminiscent of Kafka and also of his countrymen Italo Svevo and Dino Buzzati. In this collection's showcase piece, the title novella, d'Arzo memorably depicts the fragmented, slowly building relationship between a 60ish priest ministering to his remote mountainside village's parishioners and a taciturn widow who only reluctantly voices the question that forever challenges both his faith and his complacent sense of his own humanity. The story sacrifices crucial tension when its focus is permitted to stray from this central conflict, yet it regains considerable power with the priest's eventual understanding of how his own limited view of ultimate matters has condemned the woman to a life of unrelieved loneliness and misery. Similar inconsistencies crop up in the four brief stories, especially in ``Elegy for Signora Nodier,'' an arguably oversubtle portrayal of a wealthy widow's unsuspected inner life, and in ``Our Monday, A Preface,'' the nakedly autobiographical and discursive, albeit exhilarating, first chapter of the long novel d'Arzo did not live to write. Yet the other two stories offer impressive displays of his concision and suggestive power: ``A Moment of This Sort,'' which sketches the psychological tug-of-war between a smug schoolteacher and a crafty peasant--who's more his ``double'' than the teacher cares to admit; and ``The Old Couple,'' a cunningly constructed fable of domestic devotion, bribery and quiet revenge, distinguished by a savage climactic final kick. D'Arzo, who wrote much more during his brief lifetime than is gathered here, may indeed deserve the high place his translator claims for him. But we'll have to see more of his work in English before we can fairly judge for ourselves.