At their best, storyteller David Holt’s tales are vivid and believable. Holt has a journalist’s eye for detail; the characters he creates could be your next-door neighbors, if you lived on an isolated mountaintop in Appalachia. But when Holt moves into the realm of myth, his corn-pone style weakens — he’s just another white-bread folkkorist. Two of Hairyman‘s six Southern stories seem real enough to grab your attention; the rest inhabit the wispy world of myth, and suffer for it.

The strongest story here is ”Groundhog and the Hogaphone,” a meandering yarn about a homemade telephone-ggoundhog skin stretched over Uncle Ike’s window frame, attached by a wire to a similar hogaphone in Granny’s house. Uncle Ike wakes Granny in the morning by playing ”Cripple Creek” on his banjo into the hogaphone; in her house, Granny dances. These hilarious images from daily life show Holt at his best.

”The First Motorcycle in Black Mountain,” a similar anecdote, works almost as well. Holt makes gentle fun of his subjects without humiliating them. ”They could tell [Leroy] was proud,” he says of the motorcycle owner. ”All they had to do was count the bugs on his teeth.”

The rest of Hairyman is taken up with folktales: swamp monsters, magic fiddles, conjurers. Nothing beats a powerful story of magic and myth, but these are weak, and so predictable there is no need to stay awake for their endings. I couldn’t. B-

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