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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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