In Thames's first collection, the title story--the homecoming of a prodigal daughter, her own young daughter in tow (the product of a cousin's love)--has genuine lift to it, touching down very low in female degradation before reaching very high for believable family reconciliation. Strong waves of true emotion wash through it at the right intervals, making it ultimately stirring. Too bad, then, that so little here (and a five-story collection seems a handicap for even the strongest talent) is in the same league. Every one of these pieces has to do with a child's being either shut out of or cruelly shut in by family neglect, selfishness--and the tone is generally passive, muffled, set in amber. A mother beats out her daughter for a boy's affection in ""Lorna Mitchell's Vision""; in ""The Miracle,"" a drug-dealer's family is so exotic and pathological that it implodes; in ""Gone,"" a woman's grown retarded son leaves her to live on his own, dooming her to memories of incest and denial. A stylist of no great distinction (""I grip the top of the iron headboard, crushing the cool molded tubing into my palms until my skin burns and my fingers ache. Sobs like a churning sea roll inside me, choked back by the barbed edges in my fever-scarred throat...""), Thames must depend solely on feeling for her stories to succeed--but except for the title one, these pieces lack the progress of feeling-unfolding-in-time that allows a character more than a stunned victimhood.