Uneven writing but provocative stories with a clear, vital message.

Gifts Not Yet Given


The holiday season adds further strain to complex, tense relationships in this diverse collection of short stories.

In 14 stories, Edwards-Stout (Songs for the New Depression, 2011) assumes an impressive range of voices: ball-breaking business woman, grade schooler struggling with gender identity, mother-to-be and transgender father, uprooted domestic worker, and more. This willingness to step inside the minds of such disparate, often nonmainstream characters hints at Edwards-Stout’s confidence as a writer and his broad life experiences. While a book that shifts perspectives so frequently could become dizzying, Edwards-Stout tethers his characters to recurring themes of giving, holidays and acceptance. In “The Old Rugged Cross,” Cassandra follows her son, Reggie, from Alabama to California. He’s a fireman, a profession that killed his father, Cassandra’s husband. While Cassandra is content in Jackson, Ala., and in the honest work of a domestic, she misses her son and yields to his pleas to relocate: “He was all she had, aside from Jesus.” But when Reggie dies just before Christmas in the line of duty, Cassandra abandons Jesus and her old, weathered Bible: “[S]he banished it to a drawer, piling other books on top, as if to suffocate it.” Cassandra revels in being forsaken until she learns to accept her son’s choices, his dedication to service and her own source of passion. Acceptance—of oneself and of others—is Edwards-Stout’s resounding message. Elsewhere, in “The Cape,” a young man struggles to accept the death of many friends from AIDS; in “Hearts,” a high school girl learns to accept being Jewish; and in “Gifts Not Yet Given,” a mother finds a heartbreaking but tender way to accept giving her child up for adoption. Edwards-Stout’s stories are original and important, yet the delivery isn’t flawless. Awkward sentence structures throughout the book tend to stall reading and force characters to perform the impossible: “Running back out to the car, Paul hauled in his last items.” And in several stories, a change of heart comes too easily. For instance, during a single visit, a mother appears to abandon her lifelong bias against her child’s gender identity. Readers appreciate some resolution, but the kind of acceptance these characters seek is often too easily won here.

Uneven writing but provocative stories with a clear, vital message.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983983736

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Circumspect Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2013

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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