Five immaculate short stories, dealing with the tentative-to-frantic strategies of isolated beings distanced from unresponsive societies. Two pieces concern children: a small boy's abortive love/guilt for a predatory nanny colors a nightmare afternoon when he's a stranger at a children's party; an older one at his aunt's rest home, like the dying woman he has chosen as a friend, is helpless before the pervasive cruelties of one of the nurses. A childlike spinster briefly and fatally lives out a fantasy of overdue engagement with life as represented by a chips-and-seafood working class resort. In ""Somerville,"" a recluse peacefully static in his own containment, is forced by the needs of an unmarried pregnant village girl (also a congenital loner) to a deliberate expiation for the ""wickedness"" of solitary happiness by attending an old woman near death and burying a dead baby. The title story monitors the rising and subsiding tensions in a ""slow"" boy, who, ringed in by contempt and hostility, is freed by one kind gesture to commit a clarifying murder. As in her novels, the author again penetrates the anguished defenses of shuttered egos with a spare acuity.