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THE EXIT COACH

These stories feel like portraits of lives scaled down to pivotal moments, but together they form a mural of humanity in...

A novella and six short stories each find people on the brink of change.

Staffel (Lessons in Another Language, 2010) is not gentle with her characters. “Leaving the Meadows” follows a man as he moves his mother from an assisted living facility to a space that can better accommodate her changing needs, while he’s also distracted by a problem at work. More than one story builds upon confrontations between women: the woman who refuses to help a friend in “Arrogance” immediately questions the impulse, but Lana in “Three Rivers” ends a relationship that has become a financial burden and ends up finding a moment of human connection. Fairly routine activities have a polished truth about them in these stories; the couple at the heart of “Mischief” are a massage therapist and school superintendent, and glimpses into their work lives and daily concerns generate empathy for the things they do without telling one another (including the adoption of the titular goat). The Exit Coach, a novella, runs on change and self-discovery. Marilyn changes her name to Ava to establish distance from her burlesque dancer–turned–MTA driver mother, Cleopatra, and takes a job caring for an elderly man that leads her in loop after loop back to where she came from. The description of the health care job and the way Ava is slyly drafted into a performing arts career that draws on her mother’s brassiness exudes grit with a dash of glamour; it’s easy to get absorbed in the world of creating a show, having it succeed, and dealing with the ego flare-ups that ensue. Ava’s triumph is that she doesn’t make one defining change but keeps adapting to circumstances until she begins to feel her own will at the heart of her decisions, and it’s a pleasure to share in.

These stories feel like portraits of lives scaled down to pivotal moments, but together they form a mural of humanity in common.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-935536-80-2

Page Count: 169

Publisher: Four Way

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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THE COMPLETE STORIES

The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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RUNAWAY

STORIES

In a word: magnificent.

Retrospect and resolution, neither fully comprehended nor ultimately satisfying: such are the territories the masterful Munro explores in her tenth collection.

Each of its eight long tales in the Canadian author’s latest gathering (after Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, 2001, etc.) bears a one-word title, and all together embrace a multiplicity of reactions to the facts of aging, changing, remembering, regretting, and confronting one’s mortality. Three pieces focus on Juliet Henderson, a student and sometime teacher of classical culture, who waits years (in “Chance”) before rediscovering romantic happiness with the middle-aged man with whom she had shared an unusual experience during a long train journey. In “Soon,” Juliet and her baby daughter Penelope visit Juliet’s aging parents, and she learns how her unconventional life has impacted on theirs. Then, in “Silence,” a much older Juliet comes sorrowfully to terms with the emptiness in her that had forever alienated Penelope, “now living the life of a prosperous, practical matron” in a world far from her mother’s. Generational and familial incompatibility also figure crucially in “Passion,” the story (somewhat initially reminiscent of Forster’s Howards End) of a rural girl’s transformative relationship with her boyfriend’s cultured, “perfect” family—and her realization that their imperfections adumbrate her own compromised future. Further complexities—and borderline believable coincidences and recognitions—make mixed successes of “Trespasses,” in which a young girl’s unease about her impulsive parents is shown to stem from a secret long kept from her, and “Tricks,” an excruciatingly sad account of a lonely girl’s happenstance relationship with the immigrant clockmaker she meets while attending a Shakespeare festival, the promise she tries and helplessly fails to keep, and the damaging misunderstanding that, she ruefully reasons, “Shakespeare should have prepared her.” Then there are the masterpieces: the title story’s wrenching portrayal of an emotionally abused young wife’s inability to leave her laconic husband; and the brilliant novella “Powers,” which spans years and lives, a truncated female friendship that might have offered sustenance and salvation, and contains acute, revelatory discriminations between how women and men experience and perceive “reality.”

In a word: magnificent.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4281-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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