Published for the first time nearly 30 years after the author's death at age 46, this gorgeous and strikingly intimate short story collection focuses on the lives and loves of black Americans in the 1960s.
In “Exteriors,” an unseen narrator directs the lighting for a disintegrating marriage like a scene from a movie set. “Okay, now backlight the two of them asleep in the big double bed,” says the voice. And then later: “take it way down. She looks too anxious and sad.” “Interiors,” the companion story, is a pair of reflective monologues, first the husband (“Sometimes I get the feeling that when I’m dead happiness is gonna rise up out of your soul and wreck havoc on life”), and then the wife (“the first time my husband left me, I took a small cabin in the woods, to enjoy a benevolent solitude”). The title story, wrenching and darkly hilarious, follows a circle of young interracial lovers through 1963, “the year of race-creed-color blindness.” In “The Happy Family,” the family’s friend recounts the quiet tragedy of their slow unraveling; “When Love Withers All of Life Cries” documents the emotional landscape of a romance. A pioneering African-American playwright, filmmaker, and activist best known for her 1982 feature film Losing Ground, Collins has a spectacular sense of dialogue. These are stories where nothing happens and everything happens, stories that are at once sweeping and very, very small. Though most of the pieces span only a few pages, they are frequently overwhelmingly rich—not just in their sharp takes on sex, race, and relationships, but in the power and music of their sentences. Collins’ prose is so precise and hypnotic that no amount of rereading it feels like enough.
Astonishing and essential. A gem.