A debut collection of stories set in the small towns of the Rio Grande Valley, the best of them out-of-kilter explorations of childhood mischief. All but a few of the 14 pieces are situated in places like Edcouch, Texas (population 2,683), the author's own hometown, and such nearby metropolises as Harlingen and McAllen, among the poor, working-class Mexican-American families that are the backbone of the Valley region. Most successful here are first-person tales of childhood as Rice himself experienced it, growing up in those towns with their intimate feeling and comparatively simple problems, told with wry humor. He remembers such offbeat pastimes as frog-throwing and an amusing first--and last--adventure in fishing; he's also a particularly astute observer of the casual cruelties that children inflict on innocent animals and one another, though he's able to treat them with an affectionate wit that softens the sting. Other stories are rather more uneven, too often leading to predictable twist endings. The best of them, the title story, about two feuding cousins and a potbelly pig, and ``Cutting Away,'' are poignant tales of lost love and soured marriage that hint at, then shy away from, potential melodrama. Rice has a nice feeling for the rhythms of everyday small-town life and the forces of family life in that context, but he occasionally slips into easy irony, particularly in less substantial tales like ``Calves Never Forget'' and ``Empty Corner.'' Here and elsewhere, Rice's writing is strained, his plotting pat or downright unbelievable. Overall, though, his Edcouch comes alive as a setting, and it'll be interesting to see where the author's future work takes him. One could conceive of his finding a comfortable niche in the pages of Chicano literature in the years to come. An inconsistent but not unpromising debut.