Tender, fierce, proudly Black and beautiful, these stories will sneak inside you and take root.

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THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES

In a collection of luminous stories populated by deeply moving and multifaceted characters, the Black girls and women who sit in traditional church pews discover their own unique ways to worship.

Though each of these nine stories carries a strong female voice, or voices, from a different region, life experience, and time, the church and its profound influence on Black communities is a complex character in itself. In "Eula," two 40-year-old lifelong friends battle each other in defining the parameters of a relationship that had turned sexual years earlier. Tension mounts between the women on New Year's Eve 1999, the last day of the 20th century, when Caroletta, the narrator, wants Eula to admit they could be more than occasional lovers while Eula refuses to let go of her dream of a traditional churchly life with a husband and child. Meanwhile, in "Jael," a woman raising her orphaned great-granddaughter finds the 14-year-old's diary and reads about her erotic obsession with the preacher's wife, struggling with her own judgment that the child she raised might be an ungodly abomination. In "How To Make Love to a Physicist," a middle school teacher embraces therapy, still taboo in many communities of color, to work her way through fears stoked by her rigid mother and give herself over to an unexpected love. The strongest story in a collection of gems is "Peach Cobbler," which finds a teenage girl reckoning with her mother's coldness and yearslong affair with their pastor. No saints exist in these pages, just full-throated, flesh-and-blood women who embrace and redefine love, and their own selves, in powerfully imperfect renditions.

Tender, fierce, proudly Black and beautiful, these stories will sneak inside you and take root.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-949199-73-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: West Virginia Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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There isn't enough texture in its treatment of the many serious issues faced by its heroine to satisfy readers.

SAM

A child's-eye view of growing up with a single mom, a troubled dad, and very slim resources.

"There is a girl, and her name is Sam. She has a mother named Courtney and a dad who is sort of around, sort of not." Goodman's seventh work of fiction follows her protagonist from ages 7 to 19, using very close third-person narration to limit the story to what is seen and understood by Sam herself. So, for example, what we know about her father's addiction issues or her mother's relationship with a violent but wealthy boyfriend is circumscribed in a way that soon begins to feel frustrating. Also, the tone of the narration seems to age very slowly, with extremely simple sentences and observations persisting as Sam starts high school and begins to get involved with boys. "Sam’s mom is a little different. She says, 'Let’s be real here.' She takes Sam to Planned Parenthood to get a prescription for the pill. This is because Sam was a surprise, and Courtney never finished her degree." This almost sounds like a picture book about birth control. Sam's main talent and interest is rock climbing, which she first encounters at a fair with her father, and from the start her will to succeed in the sport derives in large part from a craving for his difficult-to-capture attention. When she's in ninth grade, this need will be transferred to a college-age male coach, with problematic results. The sexual aspects and emotional dangers of that relationship are skimmed over with lyrical narration that feels almost coy at this point: "It is strange but magic in his apartment. It is wrong but deli­cious, like all the things not good for you....They are so secret; they are almost secret from themselves, almost dreaming when they lie down together….They steal time—not just hours, but the years between seventeen and twenty-two. They hide those years under their coats, and when they are together they leave those years on the floor with their boots, and socks, and clothes." By glossing over the fact that this is statutory rape and by letting its psychological implications and outcomes go unexplored, Goodman limits the reach of the novel.

There isn't enough texture in its treatment of the many serious issues faced by its heroine to satisfy readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-593-44781-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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