The 1998 publication of Park City, a collection of new and selected stories, sparked a much-deserved revival of interest in Beattie, one of the most underappreciated of major contemporary writers. Now, Beattie rewards longtime fans and new readers alike with 11 deft, pitch-perfect stories. Plunging straight into the living rooms and back yards where her first-name-only protagonists gather to converse, complain, eat, drink and cook, Beattie gets to the evasive, impatient heart of 21st-century living. In clear, graceful prose, she presents a range of characters, from a penniless war veteran who must endure the ""revenge of the ordinary world"" (""Hurricane Carleyville"") to a culinary celebrity who vacations in Key West and anticipates preparing an impromptu meal for President Clinton (""The Big-Breasted Pilgrim""). In ""The Famous Poet, Amid Bougainvillea,"" Beattie's subtle, satiric wit comes to play as Hopper and Randy, assistants to rich artists, reminisce about the past and creak through the daily motions of living in bodies that have failed them. Similar themes of dependence and vulnerability arise in the emotionally charged ""The Women of This World."" Adeptly depicting the dynamics between Dale; her ditzy mother-in-law, Brenda; her scholarly husband, Nelson; and her shrewdly malevolent father-in-law, Jerome, Beattie juxtaposes Nelson and Jerome's struggle for perfection in life, music and wine with a terrible tragedy that causes Dale to ruminate on humanity's inherent imperfection. Beattie still captures the zeitgeist like no one else, effortlesslyDor so it seemsDrevealing the sudden intimacies and sweet ironies of a crowded, improbable world. Only when she touches down, light as a trapeze artist, at the end of a tale, does the reader become aware of the perfect arcs she traces. (Jan.) Forecast: Beattie won the 2000 Pen/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction. If her mastery of the form is highlighted by booksellers, discerning readersDalready drawn to this title for its colorful, pointillist coverDshould buy.