From Australian novelist Winton (Shallows, 1986; That Eye, The Sky, 1987), a volume of stories that show little of the greater sure-footedness of his longer works. Most of the characters here are young, and theirs is a youth worn often with the gracelessness of self-importance. In ""Gravity,"" a young man named Jerra Nilsam behaves rudely on the anniversary of his father's death, spoiling a lawn party (""He wanted to know: how the hell could anything matter?""), then finds relief in an ending that echoes Hemingway more than it provides substance to the slightness of the character (""Sleep came to him and he was not afraid""). Some of the pieces are mere sketches, at times with facile endings reaching harder for symbol than paying attention to character (in ""The Water Was Dark and It Went Forever Down,"" a girl swims to an island, drowning, rather gratuitously, on her return), although some of the shorter pieces take hold in a fleetingly poised classics-of-the-short-story way, as in ""Distant Lands,"" about a girl who works in a bookstore and half-dreams of travel. A story about the psychological damage of a rape (""Minimum of Two"") is expert in its details but less convincing in its psychology. Later stories about Jerra Nilsam and his young wife Rachel gather more weight, though a contrived ending mars ""The Strong One"" (Rachel seeks out a future while Jerra dwells in the past); ""More,"" about marital jealousy and stress after a baby is born, has an untutored energy that brings moments of genuine life to the conventionalism of its material; and ""Blood and Water"" contains a masterfully gripping portrayal of a difficult childbirth, though the story's controlling, antiestablishment theme of the soulless impersonality of hospitals and technology as opposed to the life-force purity of nature leaves the whole, in Winton's hands, with an aftertaste of the artificial and jejune. In all: sometimes revealing an indisputable energy, but more often having the feel of work not yet matured.