Thirty stories and sketches from one of the Harlem Renaissance's last surviving members: a first-rate collection that spans almost 70 years, and includes a prize-winning story (``The Typewriter'') written when West was 17. Many of the pieces here reflect the author's relatively privileged background as a genteel black Bostonian whose family pioneered the Negro summer community on Martha's Vineyard. West's fiction relies on popular story conventions defined by writers like O. Henry: It builds to a definite point, allows for sharp plot twists, and often ends in dramatic irony. Most of the tales here concern moneyhard-earned, easy-come, or out of reach. In ``The Penny,'' a boy who's lost his penny is coerced by a middle-class woman into betraying his parents so he can get another; the superb ``Jack in the Pot'' concerns a woman on relief whose lottery winnings create more problems than they solve; and ``Odyssey of an Egg'' is a hard-boiled tale of a ne'er-do-well, his head full of movie-derived gangster toughness, whose greed gets the better of him. West's best stories are often told from a young girl's point of view: The protagonist of ``The Five-Dollar Bill,'' whose parents live apart, sees childhood as ``full of unrequited love, and suffering, and tears''; ``Funeral'' offers a child's perspective on the apparent greed and guilt manifest at an uncle's funeral; and ``The Happiest Year, The Saddest Year'' concerns a girl's anger at the death of her dark-complexioned cousin. Shades of blackness figure prominently here, and they often have profound social consequences. West's strength is as a moralist and social observer, sensitive to the slippery slope of vice and the indignities of poverty. The nonfiction pieces include lovely portraits of West's entrepreneurial father and her family's heroic women; an astonishing anecdote involving director Sergei Eisenstein; and a classic profile of little-remembered Harlem Renaissance figure Wallace Thurman. A wonderful historical gathering by a writer who's not just part of literary history but still very much alive.

Pub Date: July 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-47145-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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