THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1983

For 1982, Wright Morris' "Victrola"—a Chekhovian tale of man-dog attachment—was clearly the story of the year: it was the standout of William Abrahams' strong O. Henry Award collection (p. 191)—and it's certainly the standout of this less impressive gathering by novelist Tyler, 1983's guest-editor for the Best American Short Stories series. While less idiosyncratic than some previous guest-editors, Tyler's obvious preference for realistic domestic situations—mildly quirky, mostly non-urban, usually more than a bit sentimental—results in an anthology without much variety; you'll find nothing very stylish, very comic, very adventurous or disturbing here. Bobbie Ann Mason's "Graveyard Day," also a highlight of 1983's Pushcart Prize collection, is by far the best in this dominant vein: one of her fine, offhand portraits of ordinary people (a divorced mother on a graveyard picnic with daughter and beau) achieving some grace in lives defined by TV and fast-foods—a Middle America viewed with precision but no condescension. Engaging, too, are slightly offbeat sketches by Julie Schumacher (a super-competent mother's near-magical approach to her own illness) and Louise Erdrich (an outsider's wry view of the marriage between an Indian man and a huge truck-weigher). And there are solid, surprise-less New Yorker stories on marriage, divorce, and kids—with John Updike deftly getting some extra texture by counterpointing divorce with the "Deaths of Distant Friends." Only Ursula Le Guin, however, offers a little daring: her neat, deadpan "Sur" posits an all-female Antarctic expedition that predated Amundsen. Only Laurie Colwin tries, with semi-success, to create a real voice: a middle-aged man complaining—with some sex-role reversals and some affecting moments—about "My Mistress." And this otherwise sound-and-pleasant collection is marred by the inclusion of one truly ghastly item: "The Count and the Princess" by Joseph Epstein—an obvious, plastic, corny tale of odd-couple romance (a European count, a Jewish divorcee) that seems more like a TV-sitcom pilot than a serious short story. (Even Tyler's gushing, story-by-story introduction, which reads like a medley of her many book-ad blurbs, can't work up much genuine enthusiasm for this entry.) Still—one of the better post-Foley anthologies, with few risks and few inspired moments, but also with few pretensions or embarrassments.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1983

ISBN: 039534428X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1983

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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