IN A FATHER'S PLACE by Christopher Tilghman (Harper Perennial: $9.95). Most of the stories in this exceptional debut collection are set in the shifting tidelands of Chesapeake Bay, "never far from land on the water, the water always meeting the land, always in flux." Tilghman focuses on the aching gaps that separate what people expect from their loved ones and the lesser reality they receive. In "Loose Reins," a grown man struggles to come to grips with his memories of a capable but remote father and the inept but well-intentioned ranch hand who tried to take his place. A boy impatiently waits for his father to assert himself and take charge of a situation--just once--in "On the Rivershore." Writing with rare, elegiac grace, Tilghman incorporates death into his portrait of familial love in "Gracious Rain." After his premature death, a kind but unremarkable man achieves peace when he discovers he can remain in his former home, watching over his wife and children: "Perhaps, he would be there forever. Raymond Street was quiet, the houses firm and solid in a line, under a gracious rain falling lightly on the resting land."