New Stories from the South 1992: The Year's Best

Shannon Ravenel, Author, Shannon Ravenel, Editor Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $10.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-56512-011-2

Ravenel once again seeks out eccentricity in this annual's seventh volume. Alison Baker writes about Siamese twins who join a first-grade class; Nanci Kincaid's story involves a woman who sympathizes with other people to the extent that she sees herself through their eyes and refuses to keep a mirror in the house; Padgett Powell describes the romance between an old woman who delights in setting her swamp on fire and the 300-pound sheriff who stops by to cheek on it. Although the collection is uneven, the finest stories permit readers to understand a character's bizarre motivations, as in Susan Perabo's tale about a woman who shows her dog pictures of dead people from Life magazine in an attempt to explain why the infant's room is empty. Perhaps the most eccentric elements-and the most Southern-are the distorted visions of God that figure heavily into many stories: This is the southern Bible Belt, where people talk about God the way they talk about the weather, the narrator muses in Mary Ward Brown's story about a young widow whose exlover hounds her to join his offbeat church. New this year are author bios and photos, plus the writers' rather superfluous comments on their own stories. (Oct.)