Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.


Thematic imbalance and wan lyricism figure rather too prominently in this 24th installment of the annual series.

It’s understandable that the chaos wreaked by Hurricane Katrina continues to loom, like a buzzard hungrily circling overhead, in the contemporary Southern imagination. Nevertheless, with one exception, this volume’s several Katrina-inflected stories tell us little not already eloquently presented in news coverage and analysis of that horror. The exception is Katherine Karlin’s gritty “Muscle Memory,” in which a bereaved adult daughter honors her late father and the storm’s victims by learning her daddy’s signature skill—welding. This fine story’s detailed attention to the earthy business of living contrasts powerfully with too many flat, clichéd depictions of sexual experimentation, fraying relationships and failed marriages. That said, a generous amount of this volume’s contents is very much worth reading. Veteran authors Elizabeth Spencer and Kelly Cherry deftly identify the fallout from fallible parents’ misadventures (in “Banger Finds Out” and “Sightings,” respectively). The classic Southern emphasis on clannishness and its discontents is freshly portrayed in Michael Knight’s envisioning of a betrayed husband’s surprising encounter with his wife’s lover (“Grand Old Party”); Stephanie Powell Watt’s slyly understated account of an independent “maiden” aunt’s various effects on her semi-scandalized relations (“Family Museum of the Ancient Postcards”); and Cary Holladay’s lovely “Horse People,” which channels both Eudora Welty and Harper Lee to tell the life story of a gentle, reflective protagonist influenced in more ways than he can count by the character of his compassionate father, a respected Virginia judge. Best of all are Pinckney Benedict’s “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” about an American fighter pilot in Vietnam accidentally transformed from predator into “prey,” and Clinton J. Stewart’s “Bird Dog,” which illuminates with precise prose and savage irony the consequences of a well-meaning father’s attempt to make “a man” of his sensitive, musically gifted son.

Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56512-674-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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