I coulda married Joe Morgan, who owns three Tastee Freezes,"" a wife tells her husband -- not unkindly -- in Hoffman's third collection (after By Land, By Sea, 1988). It's just this sort of low ambition that runs like a fault line through these competent but commonplace stories. ""Home"" is the mid-South, by turns genteel, grotesque and seedy. Hoffman's range is broad, but the track is well worn: Feisty widows drink ""tonic"" and bemoan their faded beauty; horses are noble and bird dogs soft of mouth; great-great-grandaddy was a Confederate colonel and a US senator. At their best, these stories relate with great tenderness the small kindnesses people share: Celeste, the black maid in ""Coals,"" antagonizes but ultimately comforts her grieving white employer; the retired and embittered preacher in ""Sweet Armageddon"" prays for doomsday but is solicitous toward his wife, regretful of the poverty to which his principled stubbornness has reduced them. At their worst, the pre-fab familiarity of character and situation dulls the intended effect. ""Abide With Me,"" meant to be a raucous tall tale about a man who sees God and raises a statue in tribute, degenerates instead into a catalogue of tired bumpkin caricatures and cute southern colloquialisms. Like the anglophile fox hunter in ""Points,"" for whom the chase is ""choosing to reach back into the best epochs the centuries had to offer, as well as a statement of where one stood in respect to a world becoming increasingly common, disordered, and hateful,"" many of these characters -- aging, fighting irrelevance, confronted with evidence of their own deterioration as well as that of society -- seek refuge from the inhospitable present in the past. In the best southern literary tradition, they are more often haunted than comforted by their heritage. Well-crafted, but oh so familiar.