An outstanding debut that succeeds in gathering domestic drama, philosophical fiction, and a touch of Southern Gothic style...

GRAY HAMPTON

A SUITE OF STORIES

Two generations of Kentucky women navigate familial obligation and legacy in Hanratty’s debut novel in stories.

In 1936, Salinda “Sal” Skinner, scarred by the public shame of her drunk father and a “trash” family name, vows to leave Gray Hampton, Kentucky’s small-town prejudice far behind. And so begins a generational tale of women searching to find meaning in their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers. Sal sees her salvation in local rich boy Ivan Barkley, but their “oil and water” marriage ends with an accident at work, which leaves Sal a widow and forces a return to her despised hometown. Sal’s daughters go on to struggle with their own identities. After an interlude with hints of Southern Gothic, youngest Heddy becomes the voice of the second half of the book, narrating her formative years with a narcoleptic handyman stepfather, through marriage and motherhood, until a freak tragedy threatens to destroy her family. A grief-stricken Heddy secludes herself in a woodland cabin, where she attempts to come to terms with personal wounds both old and new and find a kind of philosophical peace among the “community of trees.” Such themes suggest a sprawling tome, but although the novel covers decades of family life, Hanratty displays the short story writer’s keen eye for concision and elision, allowing years to pass in a blink without leaving readers adrift. A fine sense of place helps, as do the well-observed details of family life, with its in-jokes and secret language. The characters feel lived-in and authentic, although Heddy’s voice is marred later on by an unnecessary switch in point of view (from close third- to first-person), and Penny’s voice is conspicuously absent from the narrative, which can sometimes give readers the feeling that the stories are merely an excerpt of a much larger work. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise assured and beautifully crafted novel that packs more into one short book than most writers do in an entire series.

An outstanding debut that succeeds in gathering domestic drama, philosophical fiction, and a touch of Southern Gothic style into one family saga.

Pub Date: May 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9960120-1-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Fleur-de-Lis Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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