From a writer whose career has now spanned almost 60 years comes a volume of breathtakingly perfected and lovely stories that have most of the past century for their grazing land. Maxwell's first fiction since the novel So Long, See You Tomorrow (American Book Award, 1980). Nothing that Maxwell touches upon in these far-back reminiscences is ever bruised or forced as the author, again and again, patiently and delicately draws forth moments of recognition and quiet epiphany from the distant past. ``Billie Dyer'' is the historian-author's tale of a black man from a poor family in turn- of-the-century Lincoln, Illinois, who went on to become an influential medical doctor. Himself born in Lincoln in 1908, Maxwell can devote four pages to the death of a beloved fifth-grade teacher (``Love'') without the faintest whisper of sentimentality, and in another five pages find a life's-worth of self-recognition in a simple childhood moment of moral failure (``With Reference to an Incident at a Bridge''). Longer pieces roam into their material and bring alive the daily life of a lost century, as in a story of a ne'er-do-well uncle (``The Man in the Moon''); through subtle biographies of townspeople told on the occasion of a death (``My Father's Friends''); in a study of race, class, and family history (``The Front and the Back Parts of the House''); or in the passionately quiet tale of a brother losing a leg in a childhood accident (``The Holy Terror''). ``As the details unfolded before my mind,'' writes Maxwell at one point, ``I went on putting them down, trusting that there was a story and that I would eventually find it.'' He finds it again and again, with delicacy, intelligence, and piercing beauty, in fiction that draws stories forth from the reality of life instead of imposing them on it. Treasurable small masterworks of American literature.