As the title suggests, this is a small handful of early pieces by Elkin (three short stories and a brief memoir-essay), including his very first published story, "A Sound of Distant Thunder," which appeared originally in Epoch magazine. Never a man to puff himself up, Elkin has supplied an introduction to the volume in which he announces brightly that "The three pieces in this collection. . .are not, I'm afraid, very good. Indeed, with the possible exception of 'Fifty Dollars,' they are no good at all." But Elkin, as usual, knows what he's doing. After such candor as this, who among us can resist taking at least a little peak? The memoir-essay, for example, which appeared in Antaeus and is called "Where I Read What I read." Here's a peek at Stanley Elkin, indeed, telling about his graduate-student days and, before those, about his Army time--including the long-ago day in Colorado in the 1950s, on bivouac in the mountains, when he managed, after trench-digging duty, to sneak off under the pine trees to read Thomas Mann's "Mario the Magician." "I was astounded," he reveals, "by how beautifully men could write, stunned by how they could imagine worlds so much more beautiful, if not more comfortable, than even this one. . . This was the happiest day of my life." "Bill Bamberger is willing to put this stuff between covers," Elkin writes. "I sign fifty copies of the press run and--at least that's the assumption--a few dozen people will be willing to pay a small premium to have it in their libraries." Well, sure. After all, there's life in this unpretentious little volume, a thread of melancholy woven into the drollery, and a few pieces of early Elkin for those who want to see what they're like, or to make their collection complete.