Wells is a writer like no other. Prepare for magic allusive and illusive, intelligent and innovative.



A vibrant collection of 15 thematically linked stories shaped by surrealism, narratives seemingly reflected in a fun-house mirror.

Many of these stories seem only one step away from normalcy, but that’s a step made into a strained, twisted reality. An example comes in "Kansas," in which the state is personified as a woman, dismissive of the “arrogant coasts" and plagued by a Colorado who insists on being called “Co-co." Other stories might be called fairy tales—“The Grift of the Magpie”—shape-shifted into adult fare. Bricks of language, syntax, and wordplay build narratives that lure readers into entering a bizarro world: for instance, meet “Guillaume, the mysophobic pig, who suffered from painful hoof bunions due to ill-fitting galoshes.” These blocks of wordplay grow and combine and multiply to become metaphor or parable or flights of fancy. How else to find “great stage potential” in the Tom Thumbery of L’Enfant du Paradis? In a fablelike story, God boots Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, leaving them “awaiting a radioactive salvation.” And then sometimes individual words are piled up or shoved together in wispy, allusive sentences meant to reveal character or motivation: “Indeed it was the very finger girdle of wedlock she had so long admired in the lint-smithy’s window!”; or a fairy tale is warped into a new truth as in “The Girl, the Wolf, the Crone.” This is not a book to be read in one sitting. Some stories are obscure. Some read like prose poems. All are worth appreciation.

Wells is a writer like no other. Prepare for magic allusive and illusive, intelligent and innovative.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-268-10225-8

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Univ. of Notre Dame

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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