An ambitious collection that, in spite of its shortcomings, shows impressive scope and literary ingenuity.

HOW I MET YOU

STORIES

Owens’ debut short story collection features wistful characters as they deal with loneliness and disillusionment.

These tales take place in small Texas towns, California metropoles, Haitian villages, and even heaven itself. In Texas, an only child privately endures the trauma of spiteful, divorcing parents against desolate country backdrops in “A Circle of Stones.” In Haiti, a diplomat’s widow settles into the roomy shell of her former married life in “The Christmas Cathedral,” spending Christmas alone in her late husband’s Pétion-Ville home. In “Le Bon Chapeau,” an enthusiastic parish-school student boards a crowded camion and has a discomfiting encounter with voodoo that shakes his Christian faith. During a California earthquake, an obscure writer’s unrequited love inspires him to make a bold, eccentric gesture in “In Print.” A famous Russian revolutionary joins a rock band in the afterlife and quietly struggles with heaven’s absence of exigencies in “His Red Heaven.” Other stories offer tongue-in-cheek commentary on the writing life. In “My Fame,” a newly recognized author adjusts to the absurdity of sudden notoriety. An undiscovered writer in “The Plagiarist” pens a story so marvelous he literally doesn’t believe that he actually wrote it. In other pieces that are more like prose poems than short stories, Owens honors lost lovers and caregivers, rendering them in dream scenes saturated with longing. As this summary hints, the collection demonstrates remarkable stylistic and environmental range, but never at the expense of craftsmanship. Owens’ characters are dynamic and captivating, and he has a masterful knack for subtle plot work. The atmospherics and emotional gravity of the prose are striking, for the most part, although there are some elements that read as self-indulgent and superficial. The pieces on writing, in particular, come across as opportunities to name-drop and showcase hipness to literary culture. Also, several women in these tales seem like mere tropes—the simple, listening woman; the infantilized housekeeper; and the people-pleaser in awe of a male writer’s “fuck-all attitude.”

An ambitious collection that, in spite of its shortcomings, shows impressive scope and literary ingenuity.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944467-09-8

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Brighthorse Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2018

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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