MOVIES . . . CHASING AMY: "If you loved 'Sleepless in Seattle,' you’ll just hate 'Chasing Amy,''" says TIME's Richard Schickel. As director Kevin Smith proved with a few bucks and some black-and-white film stock in 'Clerks,' he’s an original, a deadpan, dead-on observer of the whole Gen-X mess. In 'Chasing Amy,' he has moved up slightly—color film, more than one setting, scenes with actual extras in them. But he’s still a guy making two-shots of people talking about their troubles, working them through on the basis of faulty information and silly suppositions. Case in point: Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck). He draws underground comic books with his boyhood pal Banky (Jason Lee). Then he meets Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), also a comix artist, and falls into obsession. The problem is, she’s a lesbian. Well, nobody’s perfect. And, indeed, she’s not perfectly gay, for eventually she succumbs to Holden’s passion. This makes him feel terrific—the superstud who has conquered the unconquerable. Except that Banky—who has some homoerotic issues of his own to sort out—discovers otherwise. Alyssa has had male lovers in the past. This devastates Holden and wrecks both relationships. "It’s a sad and fiercely told story," notes Schickel. "Smith and his actors catch the stunned manner of a culture that thinks postmodernism is a synonym for postemotionalism. They’re always trying to be coolly affectless about hotly affecting issues, hoping blunt, acceptant talk about sexual congress will disarm the subtle pains it always implies." BOOKS . . . BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER: Robert Stone’s fans have had to content themselves, so far, with the five novels that he has published sporadically over the past 30 or so years. A sixth is scheduled to arrive in bookstores this fall, but the wait should be soothed by Bear and His Daughter (Houghton Mifflin; 222 pages; $24), a collection of six Stone short stories that have appeared in magazines plus a previously unpublished novella that gives the new volume its name. All seven pieces demonstrate, in concentrated form, the qualities that make Stone’s novels so harrowing, exhilarating and impossible to forget. His people either find themselves in, or get themselves into, situations of understated but hair-raising peril. In Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta, two druggy friends of an equally druggy American poet living in Mexico want to take him to see a nearby volcano. “The way,” the poet is told once the trip has begun, “is to go up the mountain and make it all complete.” In Helping, a man sober for 18 months starts drinking again. He tells his distraught wife that “this drink I’m having is the only worthwhile thing I’ve done in the last year and a half.” The morning after, he assesses the repercussions. “There would be damn little justice and no mercy.” One of Stone’s stories is in fact called Absence of Mercy; nearly all his people believe themselves cut off from any possible solace and forgiveness. "These stories make clear what the longer expanses of his novels tend to obscure: Stone is, for all the glittery bleakness of his plots and settings, at heart a metaphysical writer, intensely interested—as was Flannery O’Connor—in the fate of people who cannot find a reason for their existence," says TIME's Paul Gray. "The husband in Helping who falls off the wagon tries to defend himself by attacking his religious wife: “Sometimes I try to imagine what it’s like to believe that the sky is full of care and concern.” The remark wounds, as intended, but the speaker and all the sufferers in this remarkable collection know it is a cry of pain."