by Roxane Gay ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 3, 2017
Not every story works, but Gay is an admirable risk-taker in her exploration of women’s lives and new ways to tell their...
A collection of stories unified in theme—the struggles of women claiming independence for themselves—but wide-ranging in conception and form.
The women who populate this collection from the novelist and essayist Gay (Bad Feminist, 2014, etc.) are targets for aggressions both micro and macro, from the black scholar in “North Country” who receives constant unwelcome advances and questions of “Are you from Detroit?” to the sisters brutally held in captivity while teenagers in the bracing and subtle “I Will Follow You.” Gay savvily navigates the ways circumstances of gender and class alter the abuses: “Florida” is a cross-section of the women in a wealthy development, from the aimless, neglected white housewives to the Latina fitness trainer who’s misunderstood by them. The men in these stories sometimes come across as caricatures, archetypal violent misogynist-bigots like the wealthy white man playing dress-up with hip-hop culture and stalking the student/stripper in “La Negra Blanca.” But again, Gay isn’t given to uniform indictments: “Bad Priest” is a surprisingly tender story about a priest and the woman he has an affair with, and “Break All the Way Down” is a nuanced study of a woman’s urge for pain in a relationship after the loss of her son. Gay writes in a consistently simple style, but like a longtime bar-band leader, she can do a lot with it: repeating the title phrase in “I Am a Knife” evokes the narrator’s sustained experience with violence, and the title story satirizes snap judgments of women as “loose,” “frigid,” and “crazy” with plainspoken detail. When she applies that style to more allegorical or speculative tales, though, the stories stumble: “Requiem for a Glass Heart” is an overworked metaphorical study of fragility in relationships; “The Sacrifice of Darkness” is ersatz science fiction about the sun’s disappearance; “Noble Things” provocatively imagines a second Civil War but without enough space to effectively explore it.Not every story works, but Gay is an admirable risk-taker in her exploration of women’s lives and new ways to tell their stories.
Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016
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by Rattawut Lapcharoensap ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 1, 2005
A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.
Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.
In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004
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by Russell Banks ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 12, 2013
Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.
One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.
Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.
Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013
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