Ball's first collection, about the illiterate mountain people of Appalachia in the 1930's-40's, is stubbornly regional: it authentically presents western Virginia idioms, but its deliberately choppy style, which evokes hardscrabble rhythms, will keep it from a general audience. ""What the Earth Gave Free in Appalachia,"" the most accessible piece, is an evocative essay-like narrative on berry-picking written in a smoother style than the other stories: it makes clear that Ball could have given his characters as large an audience as Louise Erdich gave hers in Love Medicine. Instead, most of these stories are too colloquial to transcend their roots (some of the dialect is especially difficult) or too compressed to appeal to any but the most literary readers. There are wonderful exceptions, however. In ""The Changing of the Guard,"" a son takes his blind father to a healer. Along the way he delicately serves as his father's eyes, lovingly describing what he sees; father and son heartbreakingly come to terms with the fallen world. Other stories deal with the hardshell fundamentalism of the region: the conflict between sin (i.e., sex and battery-operated radios) and salvation haunts ""Rubygay's Radio,"" ""Myrtie's Salvation,"" and ""In Touch with God."" In the latter, a wonderful amalgam of humor and pathos, Roxie, saved several times, lives through a circus of fundamentalists and Methodists and finally takes to curing people with her radio, which is especially effective when Hank Williams, her patron saint, is singing. Other stories, such as ""The Quilt,"" ""Wish Book,"" and ""Heart Leaves,"" are fables that tell how love or even friendship survive not only religious intolerance but grinding poverty as well. A book, in short, of powerful rhythms and tragicomic anthropology, intended for a select literary audience.