“Walter John Harmon,” “A House on the Plains,” and “Jolene: A Life,” were first published in The New Yorker and were later included in Doctorow's story collectiom Sweet Land Stories.
“The Writer in the Family,” was first published in Esquire; “Willi,” first appeared in The Atlantic. Along with the story “The Hunter”, these three stories were included in Doctorow's book Lives of the Poets.
Christian Williams for the AV Club gives the collection an A- grade saying: "While the abruptness of the stories’ conclusions go from rattling to occasionally repetitive, though, the openings are always fresh, as Doctorow skillfully shifts perspective and style to better examine how the same weaknesses that make us human can also rob us of our humanity." Jess Row in The New York Times is not impressed, writing: "Doctorow’s novels tend to follow a deductive logic, beginning with the great themes of an era (or simply with a set of historical facts) and then dramatizing them in an interwoven ensemble of characters. Without a substantial dose of irony, short stories don’t work that way; the heavy-handedness of the novelist smashes them flat." David L. Ulin for the Los Angeles Times sees some value in mixing the older stories with the new: "this too is in the nature of a new and selected, to operate as a bit of a grab bag, and in so doing to let us read the work anew. To be sure, that's the case with the six older stories, which trace, with grace and acuity, the tension between longing and obligation, between who we are and who we mean to be."