Hollywood once had a roster of stars who performed predictably: Astaire danced, Lombard did romantic comedy, Flynn swashbuckled. In preparing The New American Library's second collection of short stories, editor Norris has chosen stars who perform predictably, writing the kind of story they write exceedingly well. Thus, if there is a lack of surprise, there is also an abundance of excellence. Acknowledged masters--Dubus, Helprin, Mason, Barthelme, and Taylor, among others--choose their own favorites and explain their choice in a short essay, some only a paragraph long, some two pages, that follows each story. These brief glimpses into the writer's heart are as compelling as the 20 stories themselves. The original Winter's Tales series ran for 28 years. This collection is the fourth in a new series, and perhaps because it was prepared in Great Britain, the authors and their works seem less familiar than those in the NAL collection. Although the concerns are similar--love, death, dissolution, and alienation are predominant themes--these stories are somehow less egocentric, and the writers seem more aware of the larger world that their characters inhabit. Three of the 14 stories are about very old women, near death, who from the long perspective of entire lives come to poignant realizations. The last story, only two pages long, by exiled Guatemalan Augusto Monterroso, is a terrific poke in the ribs. Any reader looking for an overview of the contemporary short story will find both collections enormously satisfying.-- Marcia Tager, Tenafly, N.J.