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LOST GIRLS

SHORT STORIES

A varied set of tales from a skilled practitioner of the short form.

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Morris plumbs the depths of fraught relationships in this debut short story collection.

Certain connections leave their marks, and in these 17 stories, the author explores the experiences of women who can’t completely sever old ties, whether they’re with lovers, crushes, friends, relatives, or even enemies. In “Inheritance,” a young woman works as a “sin-eater” following the death of the wealthy Mrs. Alma Cabot, ritualistically consuming a cake containing all the dead woman’s transgressions. She plans to use the money to escape her draining relationship with the Cabots, but her own family—who rely on her income to survive—will not let her go willingly. “Life After” follows Beth as she grieves her college-aged son following his death in a diving accident at a local quarry. The tragedy creates a distance between Beth and her husband, which she fills by pursuing a questionable new friendship with her son’s best friend, Ethan. In “Skipping Stones,” a bookish high school girl named Terri comes to the attention of two very different boys. Unnerved by her parents’ recent separation, she fumbles through a series of alarming events involving each of them. “Fear of Heights” tracks a school counselor named Allison Conti’s reaction to the death of her ex-husband, Tony. She and Lydia—whom Tony left Allison for—must drive to their old hometown to attend the funeral, sparking difficult memories.

Whether these stories’ characters are haunted by the disappearance of a neighbor girl or harassed by an employer at an apple orchard or confused by the mysterious death of a mother, they must all figure out ways to exist in a world that seems bent on taking things from them. “Some people are born to sin; others inherit it,” begins “Inheritance.” The question of when one becomes responsible for one’s own suffering recurs, and the answer isn’t so easy. Morris’ prose is full of vibrant detail, whether the tale is set decades in the past or in the present day: “I watched a father and son sit side by side on a bench, both staring at their phones. After a while, the son nudged the father, but he never looked at him. The father nudged the son back….They pushed at each other, not seeing the smile on the other’s face.” The author also excels at shorter stories; most collected here are fewer than 10 pages in length. Morris has an ability to wring a lot of emotion out of a few scant details, giving the feeling of a much longer work. Many share settings and characters, which contributes to a sense of interconnectivity and added meaning. There are a few tales that lead to predictable places—moments when the reader may wish that Morris had veered off the beaten path or committed more fully to the outcome she chooses—but overall, she demonstrates a shrewd understanding of what makes her characters tick. In the end, readers will leave the collection feeling as though they’ve lived pieces of several real lives.

A varied set of tales from a skilled practitioner of the short form.

Pub Date: June 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-952816-01-7

Page Count: 140

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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