Of the novelists who emerged in the Fifties and Sixties from Britain's Northern/working-class milieu--cf. Alan Sillitoe, David Storey--Barstow (A Kind of Loving, The Hidden Part) is perhaps the least ambitious or original; and these ten stories, like some of his novels, often verge on small-town soap opera. The longest piece, ""Rue,"" is a solid, spare, utterly predictable recycling of a familiar scenario: a prim, gentle, well-bred man (here, 53-year-old widower Jordan) attracted to--and ultimately victimized by--a tough, earthy woman who can't deal with kindness. ""The Middle of the Journey""--about a woman who finds out, after her husband's death, that he knew she'd been secretly unfaithful--is reminiscent of recent soaps by Norma Klein and Toby Stein. Several other stories, too, involve adultery and sudden death--with sentimental contrivances. (""The Apples of Paradise,"" an acknowledged reworking of Thomas Hardy's ""Fellow Townsmen,"" adds irony but misses all of Hardy's bleak gravity.) And only slightly more distinctive are small character studies--of a garrulous stool-pigeon, an incorrigible philanderer, a fine middle-aged woman driven to a single burst of kleptomania. (""I am good. But how can I prove how good I am, unless I do something bad?"") Competent, leanly stylish, but rather thin and obvious stories, then--overshadowed, when it comes to North-of-England atmosphere, by the work of such recent writers as Pat Barker (Union Street, Blow Your House Down).