Bobbie Ann Mason, . . Random, $22.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44924-9

Over the years, Mason has perfected a writerly version of method acting. As in her novels In Country and Feather Crowns, and her previous story collection, Shiloh and Other Stories, here again Mason inhabits a cast of characters who at first seem utterly defined by a world that doesn't get any larger than a small orbit of towns and country around Lexington, Ky. In the best of these 11 stories, Mason shows how deep and subtle truths can pop up anywhere and be conveyed in local dialect. Shed of two husbands and four children, the middle-aged female protagonist of "With Jazz" embarks on a casual affair with a married man called Jazz. Musing on the fruits of a long past, she feels "lost somewhere between being nice and being mean." Annie, the protagonist of "Rolling into Atlanta," works as a corporate spy, posing as a waitress, but finds herself growing attached to the headwaiter of the restaurant she's investigating. In "Three Wheeler," a potter is pestered by neighborhood boys until she one-ups them on their own turf. Not every story is so well crafted that its truths feel organic. In "Proper Gypsies," a woman borrows a friend's flat in London to regroup after a split from a lover. When the flat is burgled, the woman's feelings of wonderment and cultural displacement flare, culminating in a picturesque yet slightly contrived montage of cultural change ending with an image of a younger self seeing through a glass darkly. Mason's latest work demonstrates that the finest writers aren't afraid to think small. 11-city author tour. (On-sale: Aug. 7)