A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.

ADDICTS & BASEMENTS

A fast-moving fusion of microfiction and free verse that peers into the places where people keep things most deeply hidden.

Vaughan (Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits, 2013, etc.) is quick to identify his own motivations for this project. In “Fallout,” one of the shorter flash-fiction vignettes included in this collection, he writes: “He wants to photograph the seed pods, transfixed by the way they morph while they float….He hopes to capture their essence, as if by shooting them, freezing them frame by frame, he might see his own life oozing before him, undulating like festering wounds.” Whether photographers, tourists or children, Vaughan’s narrators approach their own circumstances and feelings with a scientific attention to detail, slicing each specimen down to the thinnest membrane before studying it with a thorough, distanced objectivity, always seeking some answer and often finding something festering. What they discover is that the most powerful addictions have little to do with substances and everything to do with patterns of behavior and belief. “Basements are unsafe” since they’re where loss occurs and, worse, where truth might be found. When his wife calls him pathetic, a stumbling drunk has to admit, “The truth is we’ve been this way for so long, I think I believe her.” Another husband accuses his wife of paranoia for worrying about his revealing their camping spot to a stranger, but inwardly, he thinks, “I wasn’t willing to admit it: he creeped me out, too….I chuckled but knew she was right.” For all their seeking, the truths they find invariably turn out to be their own inadequacies: “I said: // ‘Tell me the truth.’ / And he said, ‘I don’t believe you— // to tell the truth.’ ” Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the collection is its emotional evenness. The scientific examining persists; there is little judgment, little compassion, only observation. The young woman who loses her friend on a trip and the possibly sociopathic teen threatening sexual violence share a kind of detachment bordering on a lack of affect. These attempts to examine the human animal prove to be the collection’s strength, draining though they can be. In his dissections, Vaughan uncovers an astonishing resilience, but it is often wounded and ugly. The few emotionally charged exceptions, such as “On the Wings of a Dove,” are welcome relief.

A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-937865-23-8

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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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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