With this collection of ``American Chronicles'' from the pages of The New Yorker, Trillin (Enough's Enough, 1990, etc.), known for his sly drollery, displays his talents as a reporter, probing the wild heart of the nation in a dozen full-length pieces. If Truman Capote invented the nonfiction novel, as he claimed, and Norman Mailer devised variations on it, Trillin has perfected the nonfiction short story; moreover, his craftsmanship can contend with that of either Capote or Mailer at their best. With scant pyrotechnics but with lucid, organized prose, Trillin describes what happens when a Scout leader in Oregon is afflicted with homosexual pedophilia or a scratch farmer in Horse Cave, Kentucky, is persuaded that pot would be a good cash crop. He presents a Jekyll-and-Hyde movie reviewer in Texas and a sordid little murder case in Emporia, Kansas. There's manslaughter on the Virginia farm of a member of the patrician Saltonstall family, and the nasty activities of the Posse Comitatus in the fields of the American heartland. And though the author's land sometimes seems drenched in blood feuds, violence, and a surfeit of litigation, usually of the criminal sort, Trillin also offers an easygoing profile of ``Fats'' Goldberg, for whom he acts as a happy Boswell, and the story, gracefully moving, of an American's death in a distant land. Trillin's eye is sharp, of course. The list of ingredients in Ben and Jerry's ice cream, he tells us, ``was done in the sort of hand printing often used on menus that list a variety of herbal teas.'' He has an alert reporter's ear, too. One Kentuckian, in the words of the local sheriff, ``could come in here and sit down and talk you out of your shoes.'' Since life, as Trillin tells us, ``goes on with or without a reporter present,'' he thoughtfully provides a brief postscript to each tale to bring us up to date. Engrossing true stories, filled with liars, lawsuits, and laughs. Mind your shoes.