Persuasive voices, emotional depth, and a wide range of points of view distinguish these 16 stories of generally high quality. Ravenel, a native of the Carolinas, has culled tales by well- and lesser-known authors from American literary magazines ranging from the Carolina Quarterly to Harper's. Protagonists include a not-so-Fauiknerian Mississippi boy turned narcotics abuser and a Peace Corps volunteer only somewhat reminiscent of Styron's Peyton Loftis. Ethan Canin's memorable ""The Palace Thief"" is as carefully mapped out as a Roman campaign, whetting readers' appetites for learning about history even as western civilization is collapsing around the story's key players. While dealing with a school bully whose father is a corrupt senator in West Virginia, an ancient-history teacher learns that political power and great nations arise ""from the simple battle of wills among men at tables."" In Reynolds Price's equally illuminating ""Deeds of Light,"" a young boy's need to replace his dead father with a soldier camped in his town during World War II becomes the catalyst for his awakening sexuality; Price's deep psychological rendering of the protagonist is truly satisfying. Robert Morgan's devastating ""Dark Corner,"" about a penniless, dispossessed Texas family traveling to North Carolina, hooks readers with the tragic, knowing narrative voice of a young girl and skillfully illustrates human beings' noble but futile attempts to beat back death. Some stories seem less fleshed out than others. Melanie Sumner's ""My Other Life"" gives us the barest hint of character development beyond alcoholism and defiance -- and the faintest of epiphanies before abruptly ending. And while John Sayles's ""Peeling"" draws power from its immediacy and authentic dialogue among crawfish shuckers in Louisiana, it seems more like a slice of life than a fully realized story. In the tradition of earlier southern writers, but echoing today's sounds.