The people of Bauer's Prairie City have their fictional counterparts in Winesburg, Zenith City, and Our Town. But his engaging description of his native place--based on a recent, roots-hunting sojourn--tells us a good deal about smalltown Midwestern life that we may not know. Tracing the course of a year, Bauer looks in on, or works for, his neighbors to see what they're up to. Snub De Wit makes twice as many doughnuts in wintertime--the farmers have little to do except drink 20 or 30 cups of coffee a day. Hoop Timmons, the grain silo operator, can tell where corn was grown by chewing a single kernel. Farmers turn down new agricultural techniques because they are too easy--their farms would not give off the proper look of virtue. Bauer has a good ear for local gossip--Midwesterners practice ""an inquiring journalism, compared with the Southerner's flowing fiction."" The local cop explains that he trains his dog by mixing into the food ""freshly killed rabbit, blood, and gun powder. . . . Makes him mean as hell."" But Bauer also notes the different silences of the Midwest--the daylight silence ""drawing you further down, as in a well, past familiar levels of quiet""; the encounters that fall between ""the natural ease of friendship and the city freedom of silence."" Sometimes he strains for philosophical import, and falters; but his recognitions are crisp and sure.