In the introduction to these 21 stories, Conroy, head of the Iowa Writers Workshop, states that the collection is "proof that serious writers exist, that they work to very high standards... and contribute to the forward movement of American literary high culture." This aptly attests to the ambitions of the writers, each the winner of a Writer's Workshop writing award, but perhaps also suggests an academic dryness; the aura of apprenticeship hovers over some of these tales. Still, there are a number of standouts. One of the most powerful, "The Oracle," by Elizabeth Oness, deals with a young college graduate manipulated into an affair by the teenaged daughter of the man his widowed mother plans to marry. He discovers too late that the girl's motivation is revenge. In "Hints of His Mortality," David Borofka tells of a man trapped in a disabled 727 that may soon crash. So traumatized is he by the vision of a highly imperfect life flashing before his eyes that when he survives, he is crushed by the realization that there is "no real cause for celebration." "Gladys Knows," by Jim Henry, is the harrowing tale of a teenaged girl struggling unsuccessfully to cope with the senseless murder of her father. Most of the contributors have yet to make a name for themselves in the larger literary arena, but the stories collected here prove their promise. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.