This collection of short fiction by Dillard (English/Hollins College; The First Man on the Sun, 1983, etc.) runs the gamut from touching to tediously overwritten. The choppy title story contains four separate narratives: A tormented, suicidal punk rock singer's tale is portentous and overwrought, while that of a writer afflicted with a 10-year writing block is predictable; the most affecting segment concerns a prisoner who escapes from his cell only to find himself trapped in darkness, unsure whether his next step will lead to oblivion or freedom. The characters in Dillard's takeoffs of southern literature are more likable and less overwhelmed by symbolism. Abel Boyd, protagonist of ``The Road,'' returns to his childhood home after an absence of 38 years. The author movingly depicts Abel's confusion as he encounters a redneck bartender; his old childhood playmate, now a respected citizen of the black community; and an astute young prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold. ``That's What I Like (About the South)'' coyly reverses all the men's and women's names (a girl is named Roy, her boyfriend Shirley, etc.) to play upon the ``defining characteristics of southern fiction.'' Sentimental Roy has a typically eccentric southern family and sense of community, but Dillard writes about her with a comic, gentle touch as she loses Shirley to another girl—strangely enough, also named Shirley. ``The Bog'' purports to be the journal of an academic trying to achieve ``intercellular communication'' by using his powerfully directed thoughts to will insects (and sometimes humans) to fulfill his desires. The satire of academia is uneven here, especially in the portrayal of feminist author Sara Band, a hot number in a green pantsuit who sleeps with all her male colleagues. Still, there are some lovely lyrical passages about the professor's successful and unsuccessful interactions with nature. Best and most appealing when the author steers clear of overwriting his characters and laying on the parody too thick.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8071-1839-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

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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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