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Admitting that he was 11 or 12 before realizing "Give My Regards to Broadway" was not about the Broadway of his hometown, Long Branch, N.J., former U.S. poet laureate Pinsky (The Figured Wheel) also makes it clear that his interest in smalltown America is not all nostalgic: "There is a horror to the small-town gaze, its readiness to judge and categorize, its narrowness." Kicking off with a consideration of Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, a singular allegory of racial consciousness, Pinsky concludes with a 1924 KKK rally in his hometown. Pinsky builds his portrait of the American small town through an accretion of recurring works, artists and themes, covered in passing and usually in unexpected ways. Besides other literary depictions-of Faulkner, Wilder, Cather and others-several films are Pinsky's focus: Hitchcock's study of a serial killer in a small town, Shadow of a Doubt, as well as Sturges's outsider-inspired The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.There is an element of strain in later portions to maintain an earlier momentum. But overall, this book is characterized by a poet's eye, balanced sentiment and learning worn lightly. 17 illus. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.