An unblinking look at regional ills and richness that suffers from a dearth of African-American voices.

BEST OF THE SOUTH, VOLUME II

Culled from successive annual collections of New Stories from the South, these strong selections by novelist Anne Tyler stretch from 1996 to 2005.

The winners here have jumped through several editorial hoops, from initial publication in literary journals like the New Yorker and Ploughshares, to further selection as the best Southern fiction—not an easy quality to define, admits keen-witted, no-nonsense Tyler in her introduction. Though many of the stories will be familiar to readers, they are no less pleasing. Lee Smith’s masterly “The Happy Memories Club” (from the Atlantic Monthly), about a feisty nursing-home inmate determined to resist the censorship of her lifetime of memories, is one of several tales tackling head-on the sad, nearly squalid endings of cherished relatives. Some of these elders carry with them the edged legacy of racism and Confederate honor. Pam Durban’s “Gravity” treats a mother’s embarrassing, repetitive stories of her longtime black servant; Mamie has been dead for 14 years but still provides a beacon for the confused Charleston lady. In Gregory Sanders’s “Good Witch, Bad Witch,” a Houston woman on her last legs redeems herself of “compartmentalized” racism by bestowing a final largesse on the “nigra man” who takes care of her lawn. Lucia Nevai’s “Faith Healer” shows Northerners getting a grand Southern reception when a divorced couple seeking a Tennessee faith healer arrive at Willie Mae’s house in Pikeville—and the Pittsburgh husband’s own racist views are sorely tested. Other outsiders, a family of Sudanese in Stephanie Soileau’s “The Boucherie,” share a cultural moment with their Louisiana neighbors when a wayward cow has to be butchered, under Muslim law. There’s also plenty of hardy, run-on, vernacular storytelling, as in Clyde Edgerton’s “Debra’s Flap and Snap” and Max Steele’s hilarious, hair-raising tale of unspeakable family secrets, “The Unripe Heart.”

An unblinking look at regional ills and richness that suffers from a dearth of African-American voices.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-56512-470-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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