A haphazard and unpolished set of tales despite occasional Southern charms.

A collection of short stories that aims to inject real-world drama into tales of the holiday season.

Editor Davis takes up the laudable challenge of shedding light on rural poverty in an often saccharine genre. A recently released prisoner struggles to buy gifts for his daughters in Laura Hunter’s “As Luck Would Have It,” a notable work that encapsulates a bleak realism one doesn’t often encounter in stereotypical depictions of Christmas. In it, the ex-con gets out of prison only to encounter a post–Covid-19 world of social distancing in which the cost of protective masks is prohibitive and conservative members of his family fail to grasp the pandemic’s reality. However, other entries in this anthology fail to reach similar heights. Many unfold too quickly, offering sketchy narratives that feel wan and lifeless. Others simply feel inconsequential; in one story, for instance, a narrator merely glowers at rotten kids in a mall, while in another, a narrator unremarkably ruminates on his dad while peeling an orange. A few clichéd, hopeful endings lack any grit to speak of, and a few tales take place outside the Southern United States despite the book’s title: Pete Black’s “Stille Nact,” with its bland report of a World War I truce, is the most obvious example. In addition, “Moonlight” features a distracting use of Southern dialect that feels mocking and garish. Ultimately, although a few stories stand out as rare treats—including Jennifer Horne’s wryly narrated “Halfway to Nashville,” which closes the collection—this book too often feels as if one is rummaging through a stocking full of coal.

A haphazard and unpolished set of tales despite occasional Southern charms.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2021


Page Count: 75

Publisher: BWPublications

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2021



The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020


Filled with intelligence and sorrow, these sharply drawn glimpses of Roman lives create an impressively unified effect.

A brilliant return to the short story form by an author of protean accomplishments.

Lahiri’s third collection follows her Pulitzer-winning debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), and Unaccustomed Earth (2008), with novels and essays interspersed. In 2011, she moved from the U.S. to Rome, where she has become a prolific translator and editor in Italian, and like its immediate predecessor, the novel Whereabouts (2021), the stories in this book were written in Italian then translated to English. As a group, they evoke her new city from the perspective of an outsider looking in—sometimes one character peering into the life of another, or characters staying in houses that belong to other people. The first story, “The Boundary,” establishes this theme, narrated by a girl whose family rents out a guesthouse on their property—she watches the renters, listens to them, and draws conclusions about them, and it later turns out they’re watching right back. In the moving and wonderfully economical “The Procession,” a couple cannot get settled in the apartment they’ve rented, the wife particularly agitated by a locked room and a dangerous-looking chandelier. In “Well-Lit House,” an immigrant couple with five children is hounded from their home by bigots; the wife and kids return to their country, and the man wanders the city, homeless. Dark-skinned people in numerous stories are tormented by random acts of cruelty, in several cases by children. The central story of the book, “The Steps,” is like the game of picking out passersby and imagining what lives they have. Seven characters are seen on an ancient staircase of 126 travertine steps in the middle of town, and each is presented in their own story: the mother, the widow, the expat wife, the girl, two brothers (who share a section), the screenwriter. In the last story, “Dante Alighieri,” a woman at her mother-in-law’s funeral reflects on the long-ago loss of a friend, a memory that connects to other losses and distances. “Our deepest memories are like infinite roots reflected in the brook, a simulacrum without end.” She comforts herself by going for pizza with a group of women friends, one of whom utters the book’s perfect last line: “This city is shit….But so damn beautiful.”

Filled with intelligence and sorrow, these sharply drawn glimpses of Roman lives create an impressively unified effect.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9780593536322

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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