This first collection by the author of Edisto and A Woman Named Drown is an odd and arresting mix of full-length stories and lots of little pieces—none of them conventional by any means, and all of them typical of Powell's goofy, southern-inflected lust for language. Powell's snippets include a number of fractured profiles of strange people and places gone weird. There are: ``Dr. Ordinary'' and his litany of the things he finds odious; ``General Rancidity,'' hated all over his military base because ``only the truly rancid themselves could run with him''; ``Mr. Nefarious,'' who smiles about his girlfriend and a fancy outdoor bench; ``Mr. Desultory,'' who gives in to regression because he cannot do things in succession; and ``Miss Resignation,'' who loses at Bingo so much she decides to smoke the cards. Powell clearly agrees with the notion voiced here that ``character is nothing but warts.'' Place fares poorly too: ``Kansas'' is defined by the absence of farming; ``Texas'' is a list of things done and some know-nothing aphorisms; ``South Carolina'' finds the pickup-driving narrator molesting a belle at a fancy cotillion; and ``Florida'' is a drunk lament about what used to be. In Powell's mordant and absurd world, you watch a flood (``Flood'') and a body floats into your arms; you work as a roofer and your buddy decapitates himself in a fall on the job (``Wayne's Fate''); you ramble and drink in the woods, and someone offers perversion (``Proposition''). Faulknerian style and subject come in for some direct ribbing. ``Wait'' sidetracks a rococo turn about a bulldog and a corncob with some plain talk; and ``Lebove and Son,'' a postscript to The Hamlet, considers the consequences of literary revelation. Not quite so academic, but metafictional in their own bizarre way, are ``Mr. Irony,'' a tale of ``low-affect living edged with self-deprecating irony''; and ``Mr. Irony Renounces Irony,'' the confessions of a style abuser. The much- reprinted title story is the narrative of a true underground man, an admitted ``piece of crud'' and unemployed steelworker who thinks he's just ``Typical.'' Lyrically intense and full of the surreal juxtapositions you find in the flotsam of floodwaters: stories at once edgy and exuberant.

Pub Date: July 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-28022-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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