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Two Authors Grade the Inner Guy

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AFTER years of quiet confusion, American men are telling their stories. Sometimes the result is invigorating. Other times it's like aiming a mirror at a group of angry gorillas. Nevertheless, the dialogue has made it out of the sweat lodge and into the mainstream.

``The Book of Guys,'' by Garrison Keillor, and ``Working Men,'' by Michael Dorris, are the latest initiates into the fraternity of ``male'' literature. Both writers have men on their minds, but that's where the similarity ends.

Keillor, host of a weekly radio show and author of ``Radio Days,'' uses ``The Book of Guys'' to flex his funny muscles. Throughout the book, his talent for exposing societal absurdities shines, and one doesn't have to be a Midwesterner to appreciate his biting satire of the region. If you like to mark memorable passages by folding down corners, beware: Keillor can be funny on both sides of the page.

His best story is ``Lonesome Shorty,'' an account of a cowboy who gets fed up with life on the range and decides to settle down. ``That Old Picayune-Moon,'' the tale of a mayor harassed by a zealous newspaper editor, and the book's lengthy introduction also contain flashes of comic genius. And at times, Keillor's characters express real insights: ``Don Giovanni'' points up the difficulty many men have with competing desires for family and freedom.

But behind the giggles, the reader can hear the unmistakable whir of an irritated guy grinding a few axes. Keillor uses ``The Book of Guys'' to take swings at everybody and perhaps to chop away at the cute, folksy image he cultivated in his most popular book, ``Lake Wobegon Days.''


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