An exquisitely moody, searing assemblage of tales, each distinctively contributing to the atmosphere and desperation of The...

HARD SENTENCES

CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY ALCATRAZ

A collection of jarring prison stories centers on Alcatraz.

Editors Keaton (Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead, 2015) and Clifford’s (Trouble in the Heartland, 2014, etc.) group of 19 crime tales is influenced by the historic, notorious Alcatraz Island penitentiary. In his witty, dynamic introduction, Keaton writes of being inspired by the iconic fortification soon after his relocation to California, where he discovered a basketball tournament held in the Alcatraz prison yard. “Combine an island with a prison, and you’ve got a recipe for mythmaking,” notes Keaton, who, along with this band of talented writers, seems bewitched and enchanted by the eerie, mysterious legend of The Rock. Author and New York radiologist Glenn Gray contributes the riveting opener, “Break,” narrated by a brittle-boned prisoner who commemorates his 1941 incarceration in Alcatraz with a contortionistic escape plan. Nick Mamatas’ taut, psychedelic “Being Whitey” channels a malevolent Whitey Bulger through the use of LSD, resulting in a trippy, imaginative treat. In “Dream Flyer,” Les Edgerton, an ex-con and award-winning author, evokes the frighteningly authentic voice of a tough convict eager for his day of reckoning. The volume derives much of its strength from the variety of its contents even while all of the stories orbit a common theme. Crime fiction author and Civil War buff Rory Costello offers a unique history lesson with his 1865-set tale “The Sympathizers,” as does Mark Rapacz’s “Bodhisattva Badass,” a hardcore, 1932-set meditation on bedeviled incarceration. The assortment is accented by a raw, edgy, historical photo collage of Alcatraz, which lends the book a spooky, grim spirit. Each story has merit, whether reflecting the solemn hopelessness of the concrete tomb or capturing the essence of the inmate experience. As none of the pieces approach novella length, readers can enjoy them in the amounts they choose. These tales—infused with raw characterizations, singular narrative voices, and fictionalized situations—vividly conjure the cynical chill of the prison experience. Closing out the anthology are novelist Rob Hart’s potent, food-themed yarn “The Gas Chamber”; Southern author Leah Rhyne’s gorgeous ballerina love song “The Music Box”; and Nick Kolakowski’s unvarnished glance at the institution, where one character, dubbed the “Man in Black,” laments that there’s “nothing good about a prison you can’t walk out of.” But these hardened tales demonstrate that Alcatraz certainly provides bracing entertainment.

An exquisitely moody, searing assemblage of tales, each distinctively contributing to the atmosphere and desperation of The Rock.

Pub Date: May 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-940885-37-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: Broken River Books

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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

FLY AWAY

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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