For a few intense pages, the Pearsons summon up the grim, desolate look--to outsiders--of a Dust Bowl county and town. Then this ""city-bred lawyer and Ivy League sociologist"" settle in (for a year) to study the natives, and their discomfiture is palpable. What they're really out to discover in this raw, crude, economically disastrous place is why anyone stays there. Still, between passages of disembodied, drone-on narrative (""Scorched, black wheat ground, successor to burned-off harvest stubble. Failed crops and partially failed crops ready to be turned over and planted to the crop of next year's hope""), they get some pretty good answers. ""What the hell good's beautiful scenery if you haven't got a pot to pee in?"" says Abe Berkowitz, once of New York, for 30 years (to his surprise) proprietor of the local movie house. A painter of local scenes--""the number of twists and the number of barbs"" on the barbed-wire fences--avers: ""This little world here identifies me in an instant."" The banker tenders advice to everyone, the doctor speaks of being ""a little like Robinson Crusoe."" And besides the regulars at the local eatery's ""liar's table,"" there are maverick farmers--a returned intellectual, a radical agitator--and even a little stirring (in 1977) in the form of the nascent American Agriculture Movement. But because of the Pearsons' heavy hand none of this comes to much. When an interviewee says, ""I guess instead of a hairdresser, you could call me a listening friend,"" they add: ""Maybe this stereotype of a woman dreamed of being a model. Like at the fashion shows during county fair. . . ."" It's clumsy, patronizing, stultifying.