Ravenel is one of the most resourceful and intelligent editors in the business, and this entertaining 17th installment is...

NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH

THE YEAR’S BEST, 2002

Several excitingly original stories from new and recently emergent writers make this now-venerable annual a must for readers who mean to keep up with contemporary short fiction.

The volume gets off to a rocky start with novelist Larry Brown’s meandering, pointless preface (which really ought to have been scrapped). But it strikes gold with its first entry, playwright Romulus Linney’s beautifully structured, compellingly detailed story (“Tennessee”) of an elderly country woman’s survival of hardship, duplicity, and inexorably changing times. Other veteran writers include Max Steele, whose anecdotal “The Unripe Heart” smoothly conveys the confusion of a distracted preadolescent’s wary relationship with his “crazy” menopausal mother; Russell Banks, who limns in “The Outer Banks” a retired couple’s unspoken shared apprehension of their own fate as they deal with the death of their dog; and Doris Betts, at her nerve-grating best in the tense tale (“Aboveground”) of a grieving mother’s conflicted lingering reactions to the murder of her teenaged daughter. Pieces by newly familiar writers include Dwight Allen’s nostalgic, richly comic remembrance of a garrulous eccentric family’s misadventures (“End of the Steam Age”); Lucia Nevai’s sure-handed portrayal of a troubled marriage and a terminal illness “treated” by a forthright “Faith Healer”; and Bill Roorbach’s wonderful “Big Bend,” whose original premise matches a septuagenarian widower working for the National Park Service with a married amateur ornithologist, in a muted romantic comedy that features some irresistible dialogue exchanges (e.g., “The flesh is weak. . . . The flesh has a job to do”). The best discoveries include Aaron Gwyn’s somber, involving depiction (“Of Falling”) of a luckless “survivor” of numerous accidents who sees in the entire shape of his life the fact of his mortality; Corey Mesler’s racy Faustian tale (“The Growth and Death of Buddy Gardner”) of a ’60s blues artist’s supposed “pact with the devil”; and George Singleton’s very funny “Show-and-Tell,” about a schoolboy employed by his divorced father in a devious campaign to romance the boy’s teacher.

Ravenel is one of the most resourceful and intelligent editors in the business, and this entertaining 17th installment is one of her most pleasing productions.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2002

ISBN: 1-56512-375-1

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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