Like his earlier The Invention of the Real and The Books in Fred Hampton's Apartment, Stern dubs this challenging collection--some new material, some modified reprints--of essays, reviews, and assorted tidbits an ""orderly miscellany."" A miscellany by dint of its range, from quick sketches of African economies to full. bodied portraits of contemporary writers; ordered by the lively sensibility consumed with probing the relation between ""history and fiction"" that garnered this novelist (Other Men's Daughters) and academician (English/Chicago) the American Society of Arts and Letters' Award of Merit. The African essays punctuate the collection like choruses; in this faraway place Stern finds the perspective to demarcate his own writer's stance, the position of his body. The initial essay deals with an encounter with a Huno, a Togoan storyteller who transforms history into art in his incantatory re-creation of the oral tradition. Here Stern resounds the collection's dominant chord, first struck in the Introduction: that one should experience writers ""naively before making analytic sense of their work."" Thus the writer's, and not the academician's, ethos holds sway in the subsequent pieces, the best of which include an insightful essay about Chicago as metaphor and reality in American letters; tribute/critiques of Philip Roth, Lillian Hellman, Eleanor Lerman, and Robert Lowell; a surgical dismembering of Truffaut's Story of Adele H.; a dreamy account of a crash on a young blonde newscaster, and fragments of a play as bright and quick as an electrical storm. Scintillating, funny, and humane, this collection demands intellectual suppleness of its readers; it rewards with generous insight, and some breathtaking writing to boot.