Palencia (``author of several romance novels'') transforms typical small-town gossip into stories that affectionately limn life in an Appalachian community. As the local librarian-archivist notes, ``The only way to untangle the competing voices [of the past] is to study gossip.'' Gossip, which is ``personal history grounded in place,'' also tells us ``who we are.'' And in the pieces that follow, links between families are discovered, old rumors are revived, and new scandals aired. ``The Best Dressed Man in Dayton'' describes an event of 40 years ago, when young Dreama Forrester ran away to work in Ohio and met Floyd, con man, gambler, and natty dresser. Dreama and Floyd figure in other stories as well, since Dreama belongs to the Forrester family, which, along with the more distinguished Farnsworth family, first settled the town. The Farnsworths, whose shameful secrets are revealed in one of the best stories here, ``Stealing Sugar,'' built the bank, the hotel, and erected on the courthouse lawn a statue commemorating the soldiers of all wars--a statue known locally as ``King Farnsworth.'' ``Small Caucasian Woman'' is the first line of the only personal ad ever to have appeared in the local paper. To ask help in supplying so intimate a need fueled rumors as wild as the one suggesting to the townsfolk that the Mafia was posed to take over the IGA Foodliner. Another contemporary story, ``The Art Business,'' gently satirizes ``the great folk art scare of the eighties'' as Missy Tanner tries to establish the Tanner Museum of Primitive Art and is conned by the wily Bridges family. The last, and most poignant, piece--``The Biggest Nation''--catches up with Dreama, 40 years later, as she spends her days at a local mall reminiscing to passersby. Not earthshaking, but a pleasant if sometimes self-conscious visit down-home on the front porch with the locals.