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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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