A funny, thoughtful campus tale.


A Georgia college professor attempts to escape the ghosts of history in Stewart’s debut novel.

Atlanta, 1996: the Olympics have just left town, and historian Travis Hemperly has returned there to take up a temporary teaching position at a historically black college. The white Hemperly’s previous teaching experience includes three years at the University of Minnesota followed by a year of performing Viking re-enactments at a tourist destination in Newfoundland, Canada—neither of which has sufficiently prepared him for a career in what Abraham Baldwin Longman, one of his new colleagues, jokingly refers to as “Blackademia”: “Travis is out of his element. He has never taught on a historically black campus, has never been a minority on any piece of real estate he has ever set foot on.” It’s a difficult transition, though one that Travis is willing to make if only because there aren’t many other options for him in the shrinking academic market. Despite cultural differences and disparate sensitivities, things begin to improve—until another colleague discovers that Travis’ conspiracy-obsessed father, Henry Hemperly, hosts the racist AM-radio call-in show “Confederate Talk Radio.” What’s more, a discussion of lynching reminds Travis of a story that his father told him when he was boy about an event Henry witnessed in the tiny village of Haylow, where a man was tied to a tree and murdered with an ax. In order to remain in his new position, Travis will have to come to terms with some history outside his area of specialization—that of his family and that of the South. Stewart tells Travis’ story in lucid, observant prose (“There is a lot to look at up in the sky tonight, a lot of action going on in the cosmos….All of this astronomical activity must mean something, so it seems like the right night for an appeal to the universe”), and he gives his novel a buoyant satirical gloss without teetering too far into ridiculousness. His characters are well-drawn and generally quite complex—even the largely unsympathetic ones—and the dialogue in particular crackles with personality. The book does drag in some sections and might have been improved with a bit of condensing. Even so, it represents an amusing and sometimes quite scathing look at academia, racial tensions, and the oppressive weight of the past that still characterizes life in the South.

A funny, thoughtful campus tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60489-173-7

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


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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