In five of the nine stories collected here, Nordan returns to the sleepy southern town--""where freaks grow like magic from the buckshot and gumbo""--celebrated in his first volume, Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair (1983). But those stories not set in Arrow-Catcher, Miss., display an equally assured style in further service of Nordan's grimly humorous insight ""that doom will always surprise you."" It surprises Sugar Mecklin time and again in tales that not only chronicle his coming-of-age but also his parents' coming apart. In ""Sugar Among the Chickens."" this latter-day Huck Finn fishes for chickens with hook, line, and corn kernel until he one day catches a rooster of such violent temper that Sugar soon learns all about pain and lots about mortality. He also decides never to be ""a fool to geography or marriage or alcohol""--something his parents haven't managed to avoid. His father, ""the Marlboro Man of alcoholism,"" reveals himself to be a frustrated entertainer, a would-be Tex Ritter who instead paints houses for a living and drowns his sorrows in self-pity. His mother meanwhile dreams of travel, invents lives for models in the Sears catalog, and finally attempts suicide (""The Sears and Roebuck Catalog Game""). Comic relief here comes mostly from Sugar's charmingly juvenescent point of view, but also from the motley bunch of misfits who inhabit Arrow-Catcher. Other stories include: a truly lunatic parody of Faulkner (""The Farmer's Daughter""); the stark narrative of a failed farmer's inability to kill a pack of wild dogs (""Wild Dog""); and a powerful account of the forced intimacies between a quadriplegic and his young attendant (""The Attendant""). Though death pervades, love and humor usually triumph in these often expect fictions.