Two novellas and three stories concerned mainly with dreary, low-rent disappointment in the sagging lives of Middle America. Spencer's debut collection travels in territory colonized by Raymond Carver--and, unfortunately, is only occasionally inventive enough to make us forget Carver's shadow. The best piece here is the novella ""Samson,"" about Daryl Lee, a small-time professional wrestler who lives a bigamous life. Lou Ann is pregnant, and Daryl does his best by her, providing what he can, but he also spends time with Candy--provided he's not on the road as ""Bible Bob"" or ""the Masked Demon."" Meanwhile, his promoter, Hoffman, sends him almost anywhere at will--with the story finally revealing Dana Diane, a third woman who has borne Daryl a son, Benny Bob, and two other kids. All of this sounds kitschy, but Spencer pulls it off--Daryl is a well-meaning man with secrets, but with nobody to tell them to. The other novella, ""Wedlock,"" juxtaposes Lon--a failed minor-leaguer who returns to his hometown--against his remarried ex-wife, Pamela, who works at McDonald's. The story is mostly a country-western paean to lost dreams: Pamela's second husband, a philanderer, shoots himself, and Lon visits her, but they end up alone with nothing but beer and television for solace. There's a certain wan satisfaction in Spencer's gritty, sympathetic treatment of these losers, but his somewhat standarized minimalism is far too unrevealing. Of the three short stories, only ""Vicki's Place"" is noteworthy--an effective portrait of a son who's suddenly immersed in a sadomasochistic teen subculture and a father who's quietly betrayed. A cleareyed, seemingly authentic look at an impoverished world where broken dreams are normal--but, overall, this proves to be too much of the same thing.