Stirringly emotional storytelling.


A debut collection of short stories explores the lives of ordinary people with a focus on heartache, illness, and bereavement.

Fourteen tales are offered in this volume. The opening story, “A Prayer at the Sandbar,” examines the world from the perspective of a breast cancer survivor who is confronted by the sight of topless women during a visit to the beach. This is followed by “You’re Still Here,” in which a mother whose young, adopted daughter is experiencing night terrors reflects on her life and relationships. In “Something Grand,” a neighborhood church fire finds a widow facing the prospect of holding a makeshift funeral service for her religious husband in the school gym. Meanwhile, “Gravestones” is about a Jewish woman who volunteers to help maintain a cemetery only to find a grave bearing the name of an unrequited love. And “Purge,” which deals with self-harm, introduces a woman who decides to throw out unnecessary possessions. The collection closes with “Taking Notes,” in which a wife comes across love letters from a woman prior to going on vacation with her husband. Smith builds convincing psychological worlds in which her characters wrestle with life’s tribulations. Often the challenges faced are not immediately evident. In this emotionally intuitive, if bleak, assemblage, the author creates an atmosphere of unease by deploying hazy lines such as “Water can do that to me—erase the world around me and all my connections.” Smith discloses further information with subtle skill—for instance, it becomes clear that the narrator in “A Prayer at the Sandbar” is a cancer survivor when she ponders the reactions to her “saline implants, tattooed nipples, and scars on view.” The author’s characters are human enough for readers to share their pain. When Roberta Levine in “Gravestones” considers missing out on the love of her life, her sense of mournful regret is truly palpable: “Isn’t it funny how a chance comes once? Isn’t it funny how a person could not know that? How with one silly move, one silly answer, a person’s future could be determined?” Smith’s writing may not be for everyone, as moments of levity are scarce, but this remains an expert collection by a deeply perceptive writer.

Stirringly emotional storytelling.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73617-674-0

Page Count: 167

Publisher: 7.13 Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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