A surprisingly limp gathering of about 50 newspaper and magazine pieces--most of them very short--by the author of The Good Old Boys (1974) and Long Gone (a novel, 1979). Best is Hemphill's uninspired but sturdy sports coverage: frankly nostalgic memories of minor-league baseball in Alabama circa 1950; straightforward interview features with ex-baseball hero Roger Marls and doomed highwire legend Karl Wallenda; profiles of stock-car racer LeeRoy Yarbrough and basket-baller Oscar Robertson. But a salute to Merle Haggard is gushy and clichÃ‰-ridden: ""He is, in short, his own man. . . he has remained true to his roots. . . a beautiful man."" And indeed, throughout, Hemphill seems unable to avoid the most obvious, sentimental angle on any situation, complete with the most hackneyed phrases. Neighborhood eccentrics--except for a few spunky moonshiners and thieves--are sketched in with a maudlin, heavy hand (""These are the damaged people""). Even a small group of Vietnam pieces, despite surefire emotional material (the callous dropping of napalm, the mechanical handling of corpses), fails to register with much impact. And weakest of all are the most personal essays: whiny, repetitous references to the breakup of a 14-year marriage (the problem was the materialistic ""American Dream"" of the Fifties); standard role-reversal joke-treatment for second marriage to a successful working wife (""Hemphill, the former King of the Machos,"" cooking in an apron); glib and self-serving pronouncements about writing (""I don't believe anybody has any business writing a novel until he is past the age of forty. You must hurt and you must laugh and you must cry before you can write""); plus a piece on Jimmy Carter's inauguration--""I cried, I cried hard""--that will have you running for a copy of Roy Blount, Jr.'s Crackers. Largely humdrum in subject matter and almost completely devoid of genuine style or distinctive voice (despite an occasional stab at Larry L. King-ish folksiness)--an ill-advised and unflattering collection.