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-Faulknerian 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.