When you're from North Carolina, it's easy to blush when you're aware of how the state is perceived by outsiders.
You get embarrassed about things -- the dirty motorcycle enthusiasts who live across the street, the town crazies, the high schoolers who make out at the local fast food joint. Yes, you begin to think: tobacco, pork and the Sahara of the Bozarts -- that's North Carolina.
And then you read a book like "This Is Where We Live" (University of North Carolina Press, $16.95), and you realize there's no need to blush at all.
Edited by UNC Professor Michael McFee, "This Is Where We Live" is the latest collection of short stories by 25 contemporary North Carolina writers.
McFee has chosen a selection of stories that are brilliant and individual but still intermesh with a fluidity unlike typical short story anthologies.
The anthology's cohesiveness stems from the affection for the state, and its quirks, that each author possesses.
From the mountains to Wilmington, old people to young people, town crazies included, these stories are all crafted by writers who love the state for what it is,instead of bowing down and apologizing for the state's peculiarities.
The main title comes from a line in "The Prophet of Jupiter" by Tony Earley, a dreamy, sad story in which a small town dam keeper mixes his personal memories with the collective ones of the town.
Earley, who has already made a name for himself as one of The New Yorker's 1999 Best Young Fiction Writers, continues to prove himself to be the type of writer you want representing the state of the art in your home state.
Also of recent fame, Chapel Hill resident Daniel Wallace contributes "Slippered Feet" to the collection. Wallace has recently attracted attention because of Steven Spielberg's interest in filming his first novel, "Big Fish."
The story proves Wallace's good fortune is no fluke and that he is an author of versatility and talent.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is the stories contributed by faculty members of the UNC Creative Writing Program.
Sarah Dessen, Marianne Gingher, and Ruth Moose each contribute stories to the collection. Their writing is just plain good.
That's what you realize about the whole book -- the writing is beautiful and the stories are real. The writers too have spent time in this state and seen their motorcycle neighbors and the teenagers making out at the fast food drive-in, and they've built stories out of those experiences.
It's this sort of loving tolerance for the eccentricities of North Carolina life that ties these writers together.
The collection succeeds not only in documenting a Who's Who in the thriving North Carolina writing community but also in showcasing the impressive literary merit of the community in question.
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