Books: Birth of the Blue-Collar Blues

GEORGE MILLS by Stanley Elkin; Dutton; 508 pages; $15.95

From his home in suburban St. Louis, not far from Mark Twain's Mississippi River, Stanley Elkin once remarked that "the consummate salesman also needs a customer who doesn't want to buy." He was talking about inspiration and performance, the challenge of turning accessory into necessity. He was also offering a fragment of autobiography.

Elkin is America's master literary pitchman. No fiction writer sells ideas and myths with more elan and imagination. His fantasies about popular culture and allegorical burlesques have been set in places as disparate as a department-store basement (A Bad Man), an...

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