July 22, 2002 12:00 PM

By Richard Russo

Life is full of surprises for the men and women in Russo’s first collection of stories. A boy whose mother virtually kidnaps him for a breathless cross-country journey later learns that her mission was to save him from “the vicious little monster” he was becoming. In the title story, a creative-writing instructor receives a dark, disturbing memoir of sex, sin and betrayal from a student, an elderly nun.

Russo, who wrote this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner Empire Falls, has the quiet authority of someone with a valuable story to tell, a story about ordinary people in the extraordinary circumstances we recognize as normal existence. His relaxed, almost conversational style allows him to work his way into the hearts and souls of these compassionately drawn characters. It’s an admirable achievement to make these well-crafted and deftly plotted tales seem as unlikely and as plausible as your life. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Melodious fanfare for the common man

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