Geography is both cure and curse in Parker's second book (after Hello Down There, 1993), a collection of short fiction set in the modern South. His protagonists must often struggle with the burdens of the past as they are tempted by spontaneity, danger, and wanderlust. Their creator follows each tale to its proper length -- some are novellas, others stories -- attending also to the unique voices of his narrators, who range from an innocent boy taken along on a wild ride to a septuagenarian of some literary pretensions. The latter, in ""As Told To,"" is reading his older brother's memoir of world traveling for the State Department, which brings to the surface more than 50 years of envy and resentment. Parker eschews Faulknerian Sturm und Drang about the agonies of life below the Mason-Dixon line, but he is sensitive to his mostly middle-class characters' ambivalence about staying in the South, as when a North Carolinian ponders what might have happened if he had traveled the world instead of becoming a bail bondsman in ""Commit to Memory."" He also explores the South's meaning through the eyes of outsiders. In the fine story ""The Little Marine,"" a boy copes with his mother's crazy plans after she leaves his father and joins her lover on a journey south. A long novella, ""Golden Hour,"" brilliantly portrays a clash of races, classes, and cultures through the story of strange conflict among a former ""beach music"" legend, a late '60s radical from California, a rigid do-good teacher from Ohio, and a well-meaning vo-tech administrator. Personal emotions independent of geography are treated as well: A troubled teenager finds a kindred spirit in ""Cursive""; fierce, unrequited passion for his ex-wife compels the narrator of ""Love Wild"" into an unhealthy relationship with her peculiar brother. Honest, graceful prose perfectly matches these stories' sense of place and past.