Williams, who was a social worker for 20 years, creates a self-modeled protagonist in this debut collection—a semiautobiographical gathering of 15 interrelated stories. The author has an ultracasual, conversational tone and a quirky sense of humor that infuse the best of these pieces; when her wit and low-key style fail her, though, the pieces seem merely didactic. The first, the title story, introduces the narrator, Joan, and her best friend Evangeline ``Vange'' Kuhlman—both social workers at a rehabilitation agency for the blind. The special friendship between the two becomes a focal point of the tales; the theme of universal disability becomes another, as Joan, who, among other things, suffers from tendinitis, respiratory problems, and insomnia, and Vange, who is blind and obese, triumph over their personal obstacles to help others understand that a handicap is only a handicap when you allow it to be one. ``Miracle'' is more a musing than a story (which Williams herself points out in another, referential piece), this concerning Joan's distaste for dwarves, who ``freak [her] out.'' More successful is ``Ho-Ghay-Loo-Ees-Bor- G-Hais,'' a both literary and clever piece in which the narrator/author manages to make Borges accessible and comprehensible in just a few brushstrokes. In the concluding story, ``Book of Dreams,'' however, Williams goes sappy with strained folksy references to Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie (``All of the secret dreams and their dreamers clasp hands in a long chain . . . and we dance''). The overarching theme is clearly that all of us are handicapped in some way, and that it's wisest to accept our traits, no matter how ``society'' perceives them, and embrace them as essential to our true selves. The line here between fiction and autobiography is too often blurred, with Joan seeming more mouthpiece than fleshed-out, convincing character.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-56689-047-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996

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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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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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