Whatever their current situations (married and living in L.A., single in Fresno, traveling by train through Prague), Yarbrough's characters originate, historically and emotionally, from Mississippi, specifically from poor, cotton-growing Sunflower County. It's a country of inherently unreliable men and life-toughened, attractive women, and Yarbrough teases out their hopes and yearnings in this strongly imagined collection of nine stories. In the title piece, a married man has dinner with a longtime friend, a woman. As he recounts an episode from his hand-to-mouth Mississippi childhood, the two move, inexorably, toward an affair. In ""The Atlas Bone,"" a man just home from the Persian Gulf War neglects his wife, for reasons he can't explain, in order to listen to a story told by a pushy neighbor. The two sisters in ""Sleet"" recall their father's death and their mother's slow decline into alcoholism, trying to locate the exact moment that their lives began to dissolve. In his measured, observant prose, Yarbrough (Mississippi History) evokes not the sentimentalized or Gothicized South but one that is warm, engaging and recognizably human. (Sept.) FYI: Yarbrough's stories have appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and in Best American Mystery Stories 1998.