cover image Hard to Be Good

Hard to Be Good

Bill Barich. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15.95 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16812-4

Barrich's first collection of seven short stories, which takes a look at the lofty standards people set for themselves, is not just good, but very good. The title narrative introduces Shane, a teenager spending a vacation with his ex-hippie mother and her third husband. Trying hard to behave, Shane nevertheless seems propelled, almost by fate, to end up in the local jail. In ""The Guest,'' the behavior question is seen from another viewpoint. The owner of a small Italian guesthouse calls it ``a victory for the forces of order'' when he evicts an unruly guest. As time passes, however, he finds he misses the friendly chaos the man's annual visits brought. Barich (Traveling Light) has a rare ability to create quirky, likable characters with a few deft strokes. That, and the fact that his short stories are complete, compelling narratives in which problems proceed forward resolutions, make this collection especially appealing. (November 4)