Ironically, though editor Abrahams has laudably ventured beyond the glossy-urban-magazine sphere for most of the stories here, two of the three outstanding items are quintessential big-city entries: Joseph McElroy's ""The Future"" (from The New Yorker), in which an urban occurrence--a hold-up in a restaurant--is treated like a demonstration of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in physics; and Nora Johnson's ""The Jungle of Injustice"" (from The Atlantic Monthly), with Hollywood impoverishment-of-dreams enlivened by a generational twist. Indeed, Stephen Dixon's nail-curling ""Layaways""--robberies, shootIngs, deaths, the spiraling inevitability of life's capriciousness--is the only top-grade piece in the collection to come out of a small literary magazine (The South Carolina Review). Abrahams' first prize choice, Susan Kenney's ""Facing Front,"" a story of a grown daughter's hopeless attempts to cope with her mentally ill mother, is skillful but humdrum; there's similarly uneven work from Ben Brook, T. E. Holt, Kenneth Gewirtz, Kate Wheeler, Michael Malone, and Tim O'Brien. And, from bigger names, there's lesser work by Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Adams--plus solid offerings by Peter Taylor (""The Gift of the Prodigal"" is a bit slack but narratively spell-binding) and Jane Smiley (""The Pleasure of Her Company""--about a single woman who delves deeper into friends' marital secrets than she realizes--takes no great risks but has an involving telescoping power). All in all: a medium-strong annual round-up, with few surprises but a high degree of professionalism.