These stories by Kees, predominantly set in Depression-era mid-America, feature bleak, realistic settings and characters resigned to their meager lives. The owner of an auto parts store occasionally "sells" his sister Betty Lou to interested patrons; a cryptic message in library books indicates the yearnings of a silenced patron; a young woman taking tickets at the Roseland Gardens futilely dreams of escape from the future she sees for herself; and an old man carefully saves his money to fulfill the requirements of a chain letter only to be disappointed by a spiteful daughter-in-law. Many of these stories are set in the Nebraska of Kees's youth, and they are written from a Midwestern sensibility: keenly observant, darkly humorous, and absurdly fantastic.
In this new edition, Dana Gioia has added three stories to the fourteen gathered in the first edition, The Ceremony and Other Stories. The New York Times named that first edition, published in 1984, a notable book of the year.