Poet Block’s story debut is a find: droll tales full of real, rumpled, irony-laden life. Even the weaker links here—the more linear stories—offer their passing if humbler pleasures, as in the tales of a high-school band whose leader marches it actually out to pasture (—The Gothenburg Marching Band—), a farmer who keeps a chimpanzee (—A Bed-Time Story—), or two toughs so jealous of a local boy made good that they want to murder him (—The Stanley Andrews Story—). When a nun, though, runs out of gas outside a farmer’s house (—St. Anthony and the Fish—), then moves in and transforms his life, the result deepens gracefully into real seriousness (—At night, sometimes, Ned could feel . . . nothing creep right up to the house and almost stare in the windows—). Though Garrison Keillor is better on the air than on the page, Block can catch the tone and pace of an oral Keillor and tack it down for keeps, as in —Land of the Midnight Blonde,— about life in the Fargo of today. And at his very best, Block turns the dreariness of existence in Nebraska or the Dakotas into something approaching musical hymns to humanity—in stories like the 1918-set —Zadoc Xenophon Cannot View Bright New Moons. Can Vera Montague?—, about a spinster liberated through learning to type; or —Demon in the Closet,— the positively uproarious tale of a pregnancy in the family; or —The Dirty Shame Hotel— itself, about the denizens of a flea-bag hotel, which has the bleakness of an Edward Hopper painting, the happy tumult of a Calder circus, and the lyricism of a Dylan Thomas—and features, among other remarkable characters, a professor set on explaining —the physics of human desire— by proving that —both light and gravity work on the principle of suction.— A Sherwood Anderson for our time—funny, ironic, inventive, brimming with sympathy.