A well-crafted if lackluster first collection of 14 stories by a capable new writer in the Bobble Ann Mason/Frederick Barthelme tradition. Dreams, illusions, and the attrition of love are Bauer's principal themes, with many of the pieces narrated in the likable, world-weary voice of a woman in her early 20s. In the elegiac ""Beds,"" the narrator returns home to discover that her parents have moved to separate rooms; in ""Dancing With the Movies,"" dreams of escape from the mundane briefly enliven the citizens of a town that's being used as a film site. And in ""Fortunes,"" a young woman visits a psychic with her mother and her mother's friends, and is overjoyed to learn that she'll ascend above this blue-collar life. A would-be investigative journalist (in ""Pot o' Gold"") infiltrates a suspect game-prize magazine, only to realize that she can't jeopardize the low-paying clerical jobs the women working there desperately need. With gentle irony, Bauer implies that escaping one's class is not necessarily the ticket to a happier life. Elsewhere, she goes beyond implication and irony and draws conclusions for the reader instead. In ""Gypsies,"" as a couple fights caterpillars that have attacked their oak tree, we observe their marriage changing. Bauer doesn't need to add the obvious: ""Joe kissed her again. Wasn't this--just this union--what they really were working so hard for?"" This tendency to sum things up also mars ""Dogs,"" in which a daughter who's left home gives dogs to her father as surrogates for his grown children. She concludes, much in the fashion of popular magazine articles on pet therapy, ""We invested in them all the secrets we could never speak among ourselves."" Themes and characters, then, that are drawn with empathy, although a tendency toward needless exposition mars the collection.