Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.


Short stories brimming with societal nuance and human complexity offer a penetrating overview of urban Black America near the turn of the 21st century.

In her previous novels, The Talented Ribkins (2017) and The Rib King (2021), Hubbard showed narrative ingenuity, tough-minded intelligence, and a refined sense of character in her depictions of African Americans swept up by history. These virtues—and, it turns out, many others—are on display in this collection of 13 stories set in and around an unnamed Southern metropolis resembling Hubbard’s native New Orleans and arranged in chronological order from 1992 to 2007. “Trash,” for example, is set in 2005, the same year as Hurricane Katrina, and, in dealing with characters coping with the storm’s grisly aftermath, mentions many familiar landmarks and neighborhoods. The title character of “Henry" is a bartender who, in 1993, is struggling to keep his business afloat while helping to defend his activist brother, Leon, who was convicted of murder eight years earlier and has since become a cause célèbre in the Black community. A story set the following year, “Bitch: An Etymology of Family Values,” introduces Millie Jones, who makes anonymous phone calls alerting a Black councilman’s wife to her husband’s extramarital dalliances. Millie turns up again in the title story, set in 2001, this time working for the Leon Moore Center for Creative Unity, which has been implicated in the vandalism of a hamburger franchise in the neighborhood. By the way, that story is the collection’s centerpiece, not just for its novellalike length, but for the astute social observations, textured characterizations, and deep affection for its landscape that are emblematic of Hubbard’s writing. Nothing seems lost or shortchanged in presenting this panorama of Black lives, whether disparities in social class, creeping gentrification, or the arduous, at times heroic efforts of even the poorest community residents to retain grace, decorum, and some autonomy over their surroundings.

Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-297909-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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 quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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