OUR FORMER LIVES IN ART by Jennifer S. Davis


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More scenes of the South in this story collection from Davis (Her Kind of Want, 2002).

In “Ava Bean,” a scarred woman hoping to build a new life nurses an old racist who may herself be black, and she has drunken, joyless sex with a terrifying man. In “Rapture,” a sheltered and disappointed woman has a sort of spiritual awakening after a brief and tawdry erotic encounter with a stranger during a hurricane. In “Blue Moon,” an Elvis impersonator finds that the King is enough when she loses her best friend to Jesus. Squalor, violence, Elvis: These are shoddy souvenirs from the Southern Lit gift shop, and Davis leaves them as tacky and tired as she found them. The quirky juxtapositions feel just as shopworn, and the epiphanies are cheap, too. But several of these stories rise above the level of kitsch, and some would be outstanding even in much better company. “Pilgrimage in Georgia”—the tale of a failed writer in love with a romanticized version of the South—is a sharp, funny meditation on art, authenticity and longing. “Detritus” is a lovely fable in which the themes of poverty, craziness and fundamentalist faith are depicted with clear-eyed dignity and a luminous grace. The title story describes a father's attempt to connect with his strange son, a little boy who draws eerily accurate pictures of Civil War scenes that lead a family therapist to suggest that he was a Confederate soldier in a past life. The father's confusion and frustrated love are rendered with a poignant realism that grounds the story's fantastic elements, and the result is an exemplary piece of short fiction.

A highly uneven but ultimately worthwhile collection.

Pub Date: July 17th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8129-7352-5
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2007