Willis (Only Great Changes, 1985, etc.) offers a pleasant enough potpourri of short stories for lazy hot nights on the back porch rocker, reflecting what's important to their Appalachian characters: living and dying and the proper telling of both. The collection begins with a nonfiction piece that reads almost as a disclaimer: Shed city expectations when you read these -- they are meant to amble through country minutiae and may not pack a punch at the end. In fact, the warning is unnecessary -- most of the stories that follow err on the side of being too sophisticated or airtight. The rural mentality resonates in other ways: The ambitions of the characters are as small as the towns they inhabit; blood is thicker than water; education is anomalous; and immortality is won by raising decent children, obeying Christ, and keeping your integrity. These folks don't have much control over the world, but they are determined to remain the sovereigns of their lives. In ""My Boy Elroy,"" an elderly shopkeeper who has lived honestly and eschewed debt fends off the ruffians at her door with sharp wits and a refusal to compromise herself. Similarly, in ""Adventures of the Vulture,"" a dotty old woman known as ""the funeral lady"" plans her own service in a letter to the funeral parlor director so that she will control her destiny. While content is consistent, the forms of the stories vary widely. There is a country yarn, a series of monologues with alternating viewpoints, a letter, and traditional stories focusing on dialogue, description, and meaningfulness (sometimes too strenuously). Of the latter, ""Family Knots,"" where life's passages are measured in the stitches of quilts, is notable. The earth won't move for readers of this modest collection, but the clouds above it will drift slowly and congenially by for a couple of hours.