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TRAINING SCHOOL FOR NEGRO GIRLS

Acker shows that the lives of black girls and women are vast and varied, pushing back on the monolithic ways they are often...

In her debut collection, Acker pays tribute to Washington, D.C.—the Chocolate City—and the changes it went through during the last years of the 20th century.

The 11 stories, each centered on the life of a black woman, depict D.C. life beyond the monuments and government antics outsiders normally associate with the city. In fact, the tourist D.C. is barely background scenery in Acker’s milieu, which manages to go more local without alienating readers who are unfamiliar with life inside the Beltway. For instance, in "Mambo Sauce," a sample of that local condiment becomes the catalyst for Constance, who's just moved to D.C. from Brooklyn, to try to stave off gentrification in her new neighborhood—and the reason she begins to reconsider her interracial relationship. And in "Strong Men," a high school graduation becomes the occasion for a D.C. crab bake. Acker is strongest when she's excavating the interiority of her characters. This is especially true in “Cicada,” which chronicles a young girl’s experience as she participates in her first piano competition, and “Now, This,” in which Acker astutely describes the inner thoughts of Rae, a premenopausal woman who has to care for her ailing mother while coming to terms with the reality of her own aging body. Yet the collection is uneven. Sometimes the ancillary figures are more interesting than the main characters; in "Strong Men," the protagonist is 13-year-old Bit, but her older brother, Ronnie, whose alleged drug dealing, obsession with local basketball legend Len Bias, and desire to see the world puts him at odds with their father and jeopardizes his enrollment at Howard University, is quite a bit more interesting than Bit, who has trouble with boys and best friends. Acker’s exploration of the inner workings of Washington’s black middle class in the title story comes off as heavy-handed, resulting in exaggerated characters that might have been better suited for satire. Nonetheless, the collection ends on a tender and memorable note in "You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You," as a father and daughter cruise the city to the accompaniment of the music of its native son Marvin Gaye.

Acker shows that the lives of black girls and women are vast and varied, pushing back on the monolithic ways they are often portrayed while giving readers everything but go-go music in a generally lovely ode to D.C. life.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-936932-37-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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