A collection of nine stories, winner of the 1990 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, from Canadian Hillis--who's best at chronicling blue-collar bleakness in the school of hard knocks, though he throws in a few gentle Sherwood Anderson grotesques as well. ""Blue"" follows, in slice-of-life fashion, several workers on a gas pipeline. Norma, one of the few women workers, must put up with her unemployed husband (""I don't want my woman working on the pipeline""), as well as with co-worker Lubnicke (""I'll go back to work on the Alaska big inch before I work with a honey""), while lonely Murdoch likes the idea of Norma's presence: it spices up his fantasy life in a town where the only entertainment is to ""quaff a few beers in a seedy bar."" ""Big Machine,"" about the same characters, moves in for a more intimate glimpse. Norma grows away from her husband; Murdoch moves in with the Lubnickes; and their son Chris fights openly against the blue-collar life his father plans for him in a town split ""by a static brown creek and railroad yards."" The taut title story--which complements these two pieces--is about a boy who lives with a mother who descends into alcoholism and finds yet another ""uncle"" as a lover. ""Uncle"" Marcel preaches a jailbird's wisdom to the boy while stealing his bicycle: ""Nobody gets what they deserve, but in the end we all become who we want to be, deep down,"" the boy decides. The other tales here are less shapely novelty items--about a one-handed guitarist; a nursing-home attendant who needs a break; and the ""eye-shy"" Harvey who writes ""Eye Spy Dream"" poems. A hit-and-miss affair (selected by Russell Banks) that's most impressive for its grittiness.