As a distinctively modern genre, the short story does not require any earth-straddling heroes, merely ordinary people. It does require, however, an author with extraordinary perception of how small events may reveal a spark of the transcendent–or a shadow of the fiendish–even in dry­ goods clerks or grade-school teachers. Maxine Steinman was such a rare writer. In the stories posthumously collected in Lights of Childhood, she explores the lives of everyday characters with an ironic skepticism which sees through their fanciful hopes and petty ambitions, yet also with a warm respect for the basic de­cency and integrity that none­theless dignifies their existence. She thus transforms common men and women into the un­common stuff of art.