A fine collection of tales, as unnerving as they are entertaining.

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READ BY STRANGERS

STORIES

The blurry line between strangers and intimates is drawn, waveringly policed, and transgressed in these short stories.

Walker (At Danceteria and Other Stories, 2016) confronts his mostly female protagonists with new and disturbing relationships that lead to upsetting renegotiations of their lives. A wife discovers that her vain, unmarried mother gave up another daughter for adoption, and that sister reappears to reclaim a family life that never happened; a socially phobic woman weathers agonizing parties and then has to choose between a gorgeous new boyfriend and her trusty Toyota; a mother finds that she has more in common with her bitchy teen daughter than she would like, including their taste in men; and a Japanese salaryman in Singapore has his life destroyed when his lover’s roommate catches him using the ladies’ room. In addition, dowdy secretaries at a PR firm bristle at their hot new office mate and plot to hoist her by her own sex appeal; a woman restarts her life repeatedly in different corners of the world but is dogged by violent relationships with men; and a blocked writing professor rustles up material by stealing the ideas of her best student and starting an affair with a colleague whose wife is dying of cancer. Several tales feature gay men immersed in rough trade: A high school locker-room rape gets reprised later in a porn star’s edgy scenes; a male prostitute describes the prosaic realities of his job as the tricks turn darker. Walker’s scintillating stories crackle with frank sexuality and deadpan comedy. There’s a satirical edge to many of them, but they are always grounded in prose that’s realistic but extraordinarily vivid and even nightmarish. “When the nurse handed her the wrinkled little thing, its skin so much darker than hers and Takahiko’s, the baby opened its mouth and emitted a horrible shriek like a preening beastling, its eyes stapled shut with lines of mucus,” Walker writes in the eerie “Why Burden a Baby with a Body?” In this story, a young Japanese mother neglects her squalling newborn to obsess over a pretty, twinkling fantasy child in an online role-playing game. The result is a deep dissection of lives where the barriers to human connection can take on sometimes-comic, sometimes-monstrous proportions.

A fine collection of tales, as unnerving as they are entertaining.

Pub Date: May 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59021-678-1

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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

FLY AWAY

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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