The feathery touch of these graceful short tales conceals melancholic undertones of helplessness and American class and race...

Strivers and Other Stories

A debut collection offers 15 short stories that mostly reflect small incidents and bittersweet enlightenments in black life.

These tales by author and screenwriter Williams span the 1920s to the present and generally offer insights into the African-American condition in the United States. They are often set in the South and distilled into elegantly observed little narratives that border on vignettes. For the most part, there are no epic marches on Washington, police dog riots, or Ku Klux Klan horrors but rather emotionally intricate, character-driven portraits that typically end with muted epiphanies, quiet even when life-changing. A minor exception is the opener, “Some Get Back,” in which two Depression-era workers’ ill-conceived revenge on their hated boss backfires (a commentary on Ferguson?). More in the author’s subtle manner is “Tea Time,” wherein a typically “disadvantaged” black kid being mentored by two white liberal newlyweds comes to think (with some justification) that he’s just a surrogate starter son, filling in for their upcoming baby. In “Glass House,” a surprise visitor enlightens a homeowner couple to the origins of their architecturally eccentric Georgia domicile and its connection to the black criminal underworld of bygone generations. Set in the 1920s, “The Benefactress” depicts the dispiriting ritual of a principal from a progressive black Southern school reporting to the wealthy Madam C.J. Walker–type dowager in New York who bankrolls the institution; his meek bowing to her whims reflects the Jim Crow atmosphere they are supposedly trying to rise above. Not all of the stories center on people of color. “Just Desserts” features a poor white Southern girl, a hitchhiker and casual prostitute, who decides to wreak a form of street justice on the creepy businessman who (along with his teen mistress) gives her a ride. Williams draws the curtain on that one just at the point where any number of more predictable and pulpy writers would have gone all Quentin Tarantino. The title story concerns a 1950s Pullman porter who has helped his daughter attain college and a future but in the process feels he is not worthy of her social circle. Stings and wounds of racial and economic inequality here are mainly inferred—rarely are they so out in the open.

The feathery touch of these graceful short tales conceals melancholic undertones of helplessness and American class and race divisions.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941551-11-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Washington Writers' Publishing House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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