The style and originality lacking in these 12 commonplace stories is almost made up for in sincerity. Ardizzone cares about the moral and social dimensions of growing up in ethnic Chicago during the '50s and '60s, even if he articulates his passion in leaden prose. Attentive to detail and atmosphere, the author seldom ventures here from home turf. The story ""Baseball Fever,"" in fact, seems to be an earlier version of Ardizzone's novel Heart of the Order (1986), complete with the deadly line drive by Danny Bacigalupo into the Adam's apple of Mickey Meenan. Chicago's north side is the setting for many of these humorless tales--like ""Nonna,"" about an aged immigrant woman who wanders the old neighborhood, unfamiliar with the new smells and sounds. Most of the pieces, though, concern a child's point of view, as with the young altar boy of ""The Eyes of the Children"" who wants to believe that the bleeding man seen in church was Christ; or another boy, in ""The Language of the Dead,"" who, falsely accused of starting a fight, freaks out when a Christian Brother smacks him around. The long ""Holy Cards"" also relies on that old favorite--the horrors of literally believing the Baltimore Catechism, which the protagonist subverts by developing a martyrology of the Chicago Cubs. Tortured sexuality is part of the profile here: In ""Idling,"" the narrator remembers his first girlfriend and his fumbling deflowering; ""Ladie's Choice"" offers the sexual confusions of a self-described greaser; and ""The Daughter and the Tradesman"" gives a Catholic girl's view as she brutally sacrifices her virginity. Warm memories of an ethnic mom surface on the occasion of her hospitalization in ""My Mother's Stories""; a father and son silently bond in ""Ritual,"" a fishing-trip tale; and a light note is managed in ""World Without End"" when a son escapes his overbearing parents by moving away, even though their visits revive all the conflicts. Nostalgic narratives with no frills.