Engaging tales that should please fans of 20th-century American male authors.

The Boy Who Had A Peach Tree Growing Out Of His Head

...AND OTHER NATURAL PHENOMENA

A collection of short stories examines marriage, fatherhood, and divorce from a variety of angles. 

In this volume, Ackerman (Write Screenplays that Sell, 2014, etc.) explores familiar territory with fresh eyes. His stories follow characters approaching the end of a relationship or enduring its immediate aftermath. Relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, or even a family of rabbits—the author places them all under his microscope precisely at their moments of transformation. The collection strongly recalls the conflicted, masculine themes and anxieties of John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, but mostly Updike. Ackerman shares Charles Bukowski’s love of the racetrack (the setting for “Incidental Contact” and “The Dancer Horse”), but not his passion for heavy boozing and prostitution. At times, there are dashes of Haruki Murakami’s surrealism, as in the title story or the opener, “Trim,” in which a woman starts to appear regularly at the protagonist’s house and give him haircuts. In every story, the author walks a thin line between sentimentalism and emotional revelation; the collection slips into both sides equally. “The Dancer Horse,” in which a man goes home with a woman he met at a horse race only to change his mind, takes itself too seriously and fails to feel authentic. “General Doolittle's Raid Over Tokyo” would be an exquisite tale of a marriage if it weren’t wedded to a melodramatic incest plot (incest, oddly, is a fairly common theme in the book). But when Ackerman is at his best, as in “Roof Garden” or “Leash,” he captures an elusive sensation of loss to marvelous effect. The former story follows a man spending the day with his daughter before he tells her about his decision to leave his wife; it would fit nicely in an Updike collection. The latter is a much-welcome deviation from the other tales. “Leash” focuses on a woman who must care for her estranged daughter’s dog after she dies in a car accident. It’s an impressive piece effusing genuine empathy, and it proves Ackerman is capable of more than the male-centered stories he writes so comfortably.

Engaging tales that should please fans of 20th-century American male authors.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-3-639-79489-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Hadassa Word Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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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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