This year's collection of North American stories suffers from a bad editorial policy: unlike the British-based series (see Gordon & Hughes, below), this annual volume includes stories that are also being reprinted this year in books by their respective authors. As a consequence, nine or so stories out of the 20 selected here have already been reviewed—almost all positively—by Kirkus in recent collections by Richard Bausch, Madison Smartt Bell, Steven Millhauser, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Christopher Tilghman, and Joy Williams. Ford unapologetically includes two stories each by Bausch and Munro, and draws most of the others from the highest profile magazines—six from The New Yorker alone. All that aside, the remaining stories are a welcome batch. Lesser-known authors are represented by Patricia Henley's "The Secret of Cartwheels," a sad memory, full of repressed anger, of the narrator's four-month stay in a home for girls whose mothers cannot care for them; C.S. Godshalk's rather dazzling and un-sociological account of an inner-city savant whose lust for knowledge—as well as instinct for kindness—battles with his environment ("The Wizard"); and Pamela Houston's snappy, second-person meditation on a love affair with a man not her style ("How to Talk to a Hunter"). Newcomer Joan Wickersham's "Commuter Marriage," a yuppie whine, chronicles the difficulties of long-distance romance. Elizabeth Tallent further explores contemporary marriage and divorce in "Prowler," while Denis Johnson's equally characteristic (for him) "Car-Crash While Hitchhiking" is a hard-as-nails memory of a drugged-out vision of mortality. Dennis McFarland's timely and poignant "Nothing to ask For" finds a former alcoholic attending to his best friend dying from AIDS, the loyal buddy who set him on the road to recovery. Lore Segal's fabulistic blend of politics and magic in "The Reverse Bug" ranks with the best European fiction. But Padgett Powell's goofy narrative of a self-descried no-count booze-hound and whore-monger ("Typical") takes the honors as a work as profound as it is funny. A fair sampling of what's happening in American fiction today.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1990

ISBN: 039551617X

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1990

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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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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