Six of the eight stories in this debut collection have appeared previously in magazines ranging from Harper's to Mississippi Review, and one (``Charlotte'') has been reprinted in two ``best of'' anthologies. All of Earley's work is considerable, despite the tell-tale MFA polish and neatness. Though very much southern in setting and subject, Earley's tales often sound as flat and affectless as the New South sensibility he records. The much-reprinted ``Charlotte'' is an unabashed bit of nostalgia for a lost time in that North Carolina city, before pro basketball came to town, when garish pro wrestling instead held sway. The young male narrator of ``The Prophet From Jupiter'' suffers a similar loss when his wife leaves him for a smooth-talking cop with no appreciation for the area's rich history. Nostalgia and loss come together in ``Gettysburg,'' in which a former UNC jock, traveling through the unforgiving North, realizes the awful mistake he made when he encouraged his wife to have a tubal ligation early in their 18-year marriage. Childlessness figures in the title story as well, a post-operative mastectomy patient's reflection on her long, lustless marriage to a decent lug—proving that a good man is all too easy to find. In ``Lord Randall,'' a 34-year-old janitor remains flabbergasted by his still sexually active parents and their addiction to goofy get- rich schemes. The last three stories, with some repetition, tell about the narrator's strange life in small town North Carolina, where he was raised by his widowed mother and her bachelor brothers. Two of the pieces celebrate the simple wonders and mystery of ordinary things. Full of folksy platitudes about ``our stories,'' and how they go on, and the world being ``crazy with all kinds of luck,'' Earley's debut nevertheless reflects some genuine insight into ordinary people.
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