HERE WE ARE IN PARADISE: Stories by Tony Earley (Little, Brown: $19.95; 232 pp.). There are a number of arresting stories in this first collection by Tony Earley, many of them dealing with the McBride clan of Aliceville, N.C. "Charlotte" deserves special mention, though, because it's terrific, describing the changes that overcome a town when it opts for the big time--or as the chamber of commerce would put it, "comes of age." Earley views the change through the arrival of a pro basketball team, the Hornets, which effectively displaces Charlotte's professional wrestling circuit. The story is a beautifully melancholic elegy: "In the old days," says the narrator, manager of a fern-bar called PJ's, "our heroes were as superficial as were as superficial as we were--but we knew that--and their struggles were exaggerated versions of our own. Now we have the Hornets. They wear uniforms designed by Alexander Julian, and play hard and loose, and make us look into our souls. Now . . . we have to think about the things that are true: Everyone in Charlotte is from somewhere else." Pro wrestling, here, becomes improbably transcendent, for something vital seems at stake when Lord Poetry confronts Bob Noxious over fellow wrestler Darling Donnis during the sport's last stand in Charlotte, dubbed "The Final Battle . . . for Love." The fight is pure camp--Donnis hard put to choose between Noxious' undulating pectorals and Lord Poetry's recitation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18--but Earley gives it grace and weight. With wrestling gone, there will no longer be baying at the moon when Rockin' Robbie stops at PJ's, or respectful attention when Lord Poetry auditions a new sonnet; the city knows there's a vacuum the Hornets can't fill, for Charlotte natives "now have to live with ourselves."

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