A second collection (after Typical, 1991) from the author of the novel Edisto Revisited (1996), etc.: nine pieces--some previously published in Esquire and Harper's--suggesting that Powell may now be one of our most linguistically inventive writers. His landscape is a South defined (that ``vale of dry tears'') by Faulkner, Ray Charles, and Andy of Mayberry, peopled with characters who flirt with madness and find the perfect language to reveal their inner turmoil. The bored housewife in ``Trick or Treat'' encourages the attentions of an unlikely suitor, a 12-year-old ``Lolito'' with a singular crush. Powell brilliantly captures the voice of his brain-damaged narrator in ``Scarliotti and the Sinkhole,'' the sad and loony ravings of a moped accident victim as he drinks beer, forgets to take his meds, and waits for his hefty settlement check. The lowest of the low, the roofer of ``Wayne,'' feels left behind by the times, not to mention his wife and kids. The three parts of ``All Along the Watchtower'' start with the drunken lyricism of its ``classical anarchist'' narrator, a Peeping Tom who skips his outpatient appointment at a mental-health clinic to fly to Mexico in search of a 50-pound chihuahua, which he finds, along with a sexy nurse who has a huge supply of Percodan. This leads into a prose-poem rant by a stroke victim--a defense of silliness and quitting--and ends with the too-long fable of loneliness and twisted desire that takes place along the watchtower, looking over ``a giant spoilbank of broken hearts.'' Powell's other man-boys, who resist being ``properly stationed in Life,'' include the abandoned dad and husband of ``Dump'' and two guys in ``Two Boys'' who seek out a Chinese healer for their various afflictions. The boozing strip-club habituÇ of ``A Piece of Candy'' comes to the sobering revelation, being now a father himself, that all those women are also daughters. If Powell crashes here and there, it's because he's raised the bar so high: This is fiction that provokes, challenges, and renews your faith in possibility.