Perhaps this is the way of things with fiction anthologies: lots of skill and nothing to rock the boat. It doesn’t...



Twenty pieces of the year’s crop of short fiction that never fail to deliver what is expected but rarely take us anywhere but the expected.

The O. Henry series works thus: the editor, Dark this year, collects what is presumably some of the best fiction in the land and then a panel of three respected writers vote for their favorites. The winners are ranked one, two, and three, and each jury member writes an introduction for one of them. This time, a trio of heavy-hitters, Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates, and Colson Whitehead, are on board. Oates’s winner, “The Ceiling,” by Kevin Brockmeier, is a real corker about a town where a giant burnished thing—simply called “the object”—has appeared in the sky and is inexorably bearing down upon those who dwell there. Eggers and Whitehead fare less successfully with, respectively, a strong-starting fizzler about a gay musician reuniting with his ultra-Christian family in Texas (“Scordatura,” by Mark Ray Lewis) and a manufactured piece of Minnesota drama (“The Butcher’s Wife,” by Louise Erdrich). The inspiration for last year’s film Memento is included here—“Memento Mori,” by Jonathan Nolan—and it’s a good thing, too, as this is a collection that desperately needs a shot of twisty and inventive pulp. Despite how much solid and talented writing is on display, from Richard Ford’s serene “Charity” to David Foster Wallace’s chatty “Good Old Neon,” there is also a serious lack of much that’s terribly exciting or new. Passion? Experimentation? Good taste and the artfully constructed sentence rule here, and putting a trio of big names at the front of the book can’t change that reality.

Perhaps this is the way of things with fiction anthologies: lots of skill and nothing to rock the boat. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one wouldn’t enjoy reading the collection; it’s just that there’s little to make the reading of it a necessity. (For comparison’s sake, see Miller, below.)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-72162-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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