No anthology satisfies all readers, but Ravenel’s editorial eye is as sharp as ever, appealing to the center of the heart...

NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH

THE YEAR’S BEST, 2001

Sixteenth volume in one of the generally most satisfying annual anthologies of contemporary fiction.

In a conversational preface about her sushi bar in North Carolina, a paradigm for the evolving region, novelist Lee Smith provides this year’s answer to the anthology’s knotty implied question, “What is the South, anyway?” “We Southerners love a story,” she writes. “This is the main thing that has not changed . . . [and] that will never change.” The contributors this time around would probably agree: most are younger writers just putting a novel or two behind them, and each has a significant, connection to the region. Many of the stories, admittedly, are sluggish and perform a single narrative trick, like “Saturday Morning Car Wash Club,” about how one boy fools a bunch of bullies to get his car washed (“no big whoop,” James Ellis Thomas aptly observes in the author’s note). But there are a handful that shine. Christie Hodgen’s piercingly sad “The Hero of Loneliness” tells of an adopted boy’s struggle with his inner demons, which prompt a lifetime of wandering. George Singleton offers “Public Relations,” a mirthful portrait of a p.r. shark who destroys companies for a living and attempts to keep his private life whole. Edith Pearlman’s “Skin Deep” adores two unrelated characters who pursue their single, celibate lives with a sense of satisfying completeness. Nicola Mason’s “The Whimsied World” consists of five dreamlike “miniatures,” loopy but engaging fables about everyday objects. Immediately recognizable writers include Madison Smartt Bell, whose unaffected (if not artless) narratives are buoyed only by his fluent, gentle style; and John Barth, who tells us that the default of his computer’s date-function inspired this story about time, aging, and memory.

No anthology satisfies all readers, but Ravenel’s editorial eye is as sharp as ever, appealing to the center of the heart rather than the middle of the brow.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2001

ISBN: 1-56512-311-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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