As part of the Minnesota Voices Project, newcomer Klassen offers 15 stories varying in quality, originality, and polish--all set in small-town and farmland Minnesota. A standard-issue gothic comedy gets things started (``Summer of '36'') when an obese and irascible grandfather dies in bed and has to be taken out the window in a sling because his coffin is too big to fit through the door. Klassen has an inclination to put familiar figures through familiar paces--as in ``You See What's In Front of You,'' about a retarded man who gets teased- -to death. Yet even as you hear the gears of a story grinding, Klassen simultaneously delivers wonderful observations of the countryside, including in this case a boy's view from a bell tower. Klassen's stories can decline into anecdote (the single-note girl-hopes-to-impress-boy ``First Impressions'') and clichÇ (a five-year-old, in ``Juletta and Josef,'' being taken for medical care through a blizzard). Again, however, the qualifications are what count: Even in his weakest stories, Klassen's eye for the details of plains life seldom fails him. A 1950s tale about Catholic kids with bad teeth who go to a Protestant dentist (``Mrs. Cabot and Mrs. Abernathy'') is alive and vivid with things to see and hear, as are stories like ``Taking Stock'' (a farmboy's first trip to the city) and the even more subtle--and outright moving--``Rimpel-Zimpel'' (hired hands falling in love). When he hits his stride, Klassen can make even high melodrama moving (as when a four-year-old tries to wake his mother in her coffin--``There Is a Name For This''); and something close to pure beauty is sustained in the economic telling of life and death (``I Will Fall Into Barley'') that closes the volume. Hits and misses, then, though all touched at least somewhere with the genuine breath of life.