by Matthew Neill Null ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2016
Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40...
Sometimes lyrical, sometimes scarifying stories by the up-and-coming author of Honey from the Lion (2015).
What happens to a body when it’s been dumped in the woods under a loose pile of leaves? Maybe you don’t want to know the details, and perhaps it’s enough to say, as Null does, that “the bears and the foxes broke him apart and scattered him far and near,” language tender and elegant enough to serve in a Scottish border ballad by way of Appalachia. Null does not let that suffice, though: the body of the poor traveling salesman who ventures unwisely into the hollers is more than broken up—gnawed by dogs, half-buried, and worse—outside the confines of the story, ironically titled “Something You Can’t Live Without,” forgotten but for one thing: its former occupant’s wise observation, not long before dying, that “an animal has just enough brains to cure its own hide.” Hmmm: cured indeed. Not all the stories in this small collection are bleak and violent, but those are the dominant moods, fitting the severe landscape. Within that setting of crags, foreboding forests, and onrushing creeks, Null finds poetry and moments that can sometimes bear something like grace: “The sky went from indigo to blackness, and he saw nothing ominous in it, nothing but cold stars wheeling in their course, a course determined by the same firm hand he hoped was guiding his own.” Whether logging, farming, or damming creeks, the people who inhabit these stories are also mostly at war with each other and certainly at war with the land, which repays them with all sorts of mayhem—but sometimes, as in the closing story, with a bit of dumb luck as well.Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40 years, and it’s high time someone else did. Null is a natural writer with much to say.
Pub Date: May 10, 2016
Page Count: 192
Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016
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by Rattawut Lapcharoensap ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 1, 2005
A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.
Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.
In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004
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by Russell Banks ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 12, 2013
Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.
One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.
Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.
Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013
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