This delightful collection of short fiction sketches Southern life of the past.

Make Yourselves at Home


Writer and Episcopal priest Elberfeld offers this short but charming collection of quintessential Southern short stories (The Lady of the House, 2013).

Elberfeld’s eight short stories—set primarily in Georgia in the indefinite past (most likely early to mid-20th century)—differ in themes but share a distinct Dixie flavor. Most feature a dominant woman or, in the case of the first story, “Brotherly Love,” a domineering woman. The men are altogether absent or, if physically present, psychologically or otherwise troubled. “Cicadas” and the title entry focus on unhappy married women—throwbacks to another generation when wives stayed home—feeling helpless in their difficult relationships. In both cases, the women eventually abandon their marriages but in very different ways. Both “It’s a Blessing” and “The Boardinghouse Reach” include male characters whose lives are irrevocably impacted—and cut short—by accidents of birth. The devoted mothers who bore and subsequently mourn them elicit tremendous emotion. Bobby Lee, the funeral singer in “Ten Bucks,” is the lone male protagonist in the collection, but he, a disembodied vocalist who fantasizes about how he will spend his earnings while mourners suffer on the other side of a curtain, doesn’t emerge as a sympathetic character. Similarly, “Ten Bucks” is also the only story that emphasizes friendship over family. Despite the differences among stories, they are united by a memorable voice, unique and engaging while reminiscent of other great voices of Southern literature. Aside from the significant fact that the stories take place in the rural or small-town South, animating place details aren’t developed.

This delightful collection of short fiction sketches Southern life of the past.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-56474-572-9

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Daniel & Daniel Publishers

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2015

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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