THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE by Kent Nelson (Gibbs Smith: $18.95; 208 pp.) In this collection of 14 stories, issued at the same time as "Language in the Blood," Nelson ranges far from the Southwest--to the museums of New York, the schoolyards of Boston, the fishing grounds of Florida, a summer camp in the Adirondacks, a penitentiary. He observes all these places well. But the Southwestern tales--in which the landscape is more a character than a backdrop--show where his heart belongs.
These are realistic stories that move slowly and carefully to a climax, then take often surprising paths. The boulder that surfaces in an old Mexican woman's garden becomes a symbol of everything in life that can't be budged. A strange object that washes up on a beach--people joke that it's a mine from Nicaragua--blows up a man's marriage. A little boy keeps disappearing from school; his parents hire a detective to follow him, only to be confronted by another mystery. A youth isolated in a trailer in the desert finds that an affair with one of his father's girlfriends brings him closer to his dead mother.