Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Roy Blount, jr., Performed by, Roy Blount, jr., Preface by , preface by Roy Blount Jr. Algonquin $14.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-56512-395-3

Every great annual collection has its ups and downs, and this 18th edition of Ravenel's now-classic anthology is no exception. Slightly off pace, it stumbles out of the gate with a too-cute preface by Blount, and its 18 stories include a number of rather prosaic tales about family deaths leading to reconciliation and the promise of redemption. On the plus side, Brock Clarke's "For Those of Us Who Need Such Things" gets the collection off to an upbeat start, with its satirical account of a man who buys a deserted Southern city (Savannah, Ga.) and tries to repopulate it, only to find that being God isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Taking the form of an Indian immigrant's letter to her sister back home, Latha Viswanathan's "Cool Wedding" is a lighthearted look at the resourcefulness of a woman making do in a foreign land. One of the most entertaining and original pieces is John Dufresne's "Johnny Too Bad," about a clueless south Florida male whose girlfriend leaves him just as a force five hurricane approaches. Z.Z. Packer's "Every Tongue Shall Confess" and Michael Parker's "Off Island" both deal affectingly with the legacy of Southern racism. Even in a so-so year, this favorite will have Southern fans of "little and literary" flocking to pick up a copy. (July 11)