Flash fiction at its best that’s definitely worth a look.

SPECTATORS

A small but mighty collection of textual snapshots.

Inspired by the photographic and artistic works of Tom Patton, Stephani Schaefer, and Sara Umemoto, Davidson (The Farther Shore, 2012, etc.) offers a set of short works that he divides into three sections: “Spectators,” “Signals & Marches,” and “Fog & Woodsmoke.” Often, we think of photographs as repositories of past actions, but the author uses the present tense to lend immediacy and movement to the images that he creates. From the very first text, “Clean Pilgrim,” he draws readers in and leaves them breathless. Referring to Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, Davidson captures the cycles of nature and history as well as the musical qualities of water, highlighting its power to nourish, cleanse, transform, and destroy: “Water is the ceaseless murmur of language, an inky stream beckoning all to begin again.” In a similar vein, he depicts geographical features of Utah’s Monument Valley as “sculpted slabs licked clean by God’s weary tongue.” “Ode to a Selfie” finds a kind of sympathetic logic behind ubiquitous smartphone self-portraits, without which no modern take on photography would be complete, showing how we all attempt to cling to memories and preserve them for the future. Thus, Davidson considers internal landscapes as well, as in “Woman with No Hands,” which bears witness to the role reversal that occurs between a mother and a daughter as part of the aging process. One standout in the second section is “Failure,” which compares humans’ precarious existence to the sport of beach volleyball: “Memory grabs at our lives, like a losing player’s fingers thrust into the sand. We throw it all to the wind, praying it won’t spit back.” Many readers will find themselves returning to these short, meditative texts as they would to cherished photographs, searching for one’s own interpretations and discovering new details, nuances, or shadings that they may have overlooked. As Davidson notes in “The Best View”: “Perhaps an artist is nothing more than a parent learning to let go, releasing images into a disorderly world.”

Flash fiction at its best that’s definitely worth a look.

Pub Date: July 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944355-31-9

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Five Oaks Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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