There's nothing arbitrary about Piazza's debut collection of 12 stories, arranged in imitation of a standard 12-bar blues. His characters range across the American landscape and capture the sad notes in their disparate voices. Piazza's casual artistry stomps the blues away in these singularly American stories that confront the bugaboos of race and class without any of the usual multiculti platitudes. ""C.S.A."" saves its wallop for the last sentence, in a tale of Jewish northerners who freak out over the Nazi regalia on sale in a Memphis memorabilia shop. Similarly, ""A Servant of Culture"" unravels some of the knotty relations between blacks and Jews in the record business, a complex founded on guilt, resentment, anger, and a love of music. The successful Mexican fisherman in ""Port Isabel Hurricane"" wishes the impending storm would wipe away his comfortable bourgeois life so that he could pursue his affair with a Jewish English professor from Boston. Many of Piazza's lonesome travellers take to the road when love goes sour, but his native wandering is strictly post-Beat, antiromantic stuff: The narrator of ""Brownsville,"" lamenting his loveless state in a New Orleans cafe, hopes to erase the slate in Texas; a similar male suffering from a failed romance hopes to cleanse himself in the waters off Daytona Beach, only to have his car break down in nowhere Florida. The deep melancholy of Piazza's tired Americans comes through in ""Burn Me Up,"" a meditation on a Jerry Lee Lewis-like performer, full of hellfire and redemption, and his uneasy relation to his loving fans. Among other moody and atmospheric pieces, ""Responsibility"" stands out for its melancholic verisimilitude, tapping straight into the truth of growing up and assuming the burden of being alive. The desire for a brand-new start, the celebration of rootlessness, the coastal drifting: Piazza's American dreaming is lyrical and hard-earned, full of the kind of details and emotional realism that resonate long after you put the book down.