These stories about remarkable women deliver an elegant blend of history and art.

THREE TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES OF LOVE

A collection of novellas offers three tales drawn from the rich soil of Jewish history.

This book finds its origin in a handful of artifacts: a pair of letters from medieval Europe, a stone inscription from imperial Rome, and an assortment of papyri from ancient Egypt. These treasures bear traces of the lives of a trio of extraordinary women: a convert to Judaism forced to carry on after her husband’s death; a Jerusalemite captured and sent to Rome after the fall of the Great Temple; and an Egyptian slave who builds a family and a home with the Jewish priest who takes her as his bride. In this collection, Stock (In Place of Me, 2015, etc.) takes the stories—whose contours are merely hinted at in the artifacts themselves—and fleshes them out, extrapolating lives and worlds from ancient etchings on rock, paper, and parchment. For too long, the history of Jews (and gentiles, for that matter) has focused on men, and one of Stock’s goals in building out her tales is to give voices to the women whose lives made up so much of the rich tapestry of Judaism. As Senior Rabbi Stacy Friedman writes in her liner notes, these voices have been “long suppressed by the larger currents of history.” Stock’s excavation, then, is an extremely worthy project. But it’s clear her fascination with these tales is not only political; it is also imaginative, and she breathes life and energy into the narratives these artifacts imply (“The destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem flickered through her. Often when she closed her eyes some part of the horror would rise up, tilting crazily then turning in her mind, until she seemed to be seeing it all under water”). A skilled prose stylist, the author pulls off a delicate balancing act between the modern and the ancient; her rendering of these lives feels both contemporary and of their own time. The enterprise’s only weakness is its structure. Stock decides to set her stories in reverse chronological order, and the effect is a bit confusing: presumably, the culmination of these tales comes in the experiences of Jewish women today, so it’s a bit odd that the end of her collection leaves readers on an island in the Nile two and a half millennia ago.

These stories about remarkable women deliver an elegant blend of history and art.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60052-144-7

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Norfolk Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

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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