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



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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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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