A shrewd and probing volume of literary tales.


Characters deal with personal tragedies and outsiders in this short story collection.

A man attempts to record the memories of his father before they are all lost to dementia, but as the tales begin to contradict one another, he can’t be sure what is fact and what is fiction. A woman whose husband recently left her suffers a sudden attack of agoraphobia only to be drawn into the strange fantasies of her peculiar neighbor. Some women acclimate to their lives as mothers over the course of 16 years. A stressed-out high school student wakes up one morning to discover that he’s grown a third arm: “He went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face, and that’s when he noticed the third arm. It was more like a hologram of a third arm. He could see the wall through it….As he stood looking at himself, it went straight up like a crossing guard’s arm. Then it waved.” In these 13 stories, Fordon explores the often surreal nature of suburban life, usually through the perplexing and aggravating relationships formed between family members, friends, and neighbors. The author’s prose is exact and knife-sharp, slicing to the soft center of her characters’ afflictions. In “How It Passed,” in which some friends narrate their experiences using the first-person plural, they gripe about their husbands thusly: “They are useless, we decide. Before long we are peeling them apart like string cheese with our ragged, misshapen nails.” Some tales sputter to rather easy conclusions, but each one finds a provocative tension between two or more people and burrows unflinchingly toward the heart of it. The results are stories that lay bare the messiness that lurks behind the facades people present to society. Standout pieces include “The Shorebirds and the Shaman,” in which a newly widowed woman is tricked by a friend into attending an alternative therapy seminar on Lake Erie, and “Why Did I Ever Think This Was a Good Idea,” which follows a mother wishing good riddance to her disrespectful son, about to leave for a gap year in China.

A shrewd and probing volume of literary tales.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8143-4752-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Wayne State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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