Both the familiar and the strange are eloquently evoked and celebrated here: a model anthology.



Editor Ravenel has cast her net widely and well, making the 18th installment of this deservedly successful series one of its best yet.

Only a handful of the contributors have familiar names, and two of them appear here in peak form. John Dufresne’s “Johnny Too Bad” is a hilarious monologue spoken by a transplanted New Englander and would-be writer experiencing a Florida hurricane alongside his brainy, voluptuous girlfriend Annick and “chronically aggressive” dog Spot. Now that Dufresne has moved south, FFW (Florida’s Funniest Writer) Carl Hiaasen will need to look to his laurels. Equally impressive is Dorothy Allison’s “Compassion,” whose narrator’s unflinching description of her beloved “Mama’s” death from cancer blossoms into a rich orchestration of family contention, closeness, and pride. A somewhat similar story, Donald Hays’s “Dying Light,” depicts the subtly changing relationships among another moribund cancer victim, his frail devoted wife, and their unhappily married, underachieving adult son. Embattled relationships also figure in Michael Knight’s “Ellen’s Book,” which is and isn’t about “a dead baby haunting his father,” and Latha Viswanathan’s breezy portrayal of an Indian matchmaker operating out of Houston via the Internet (“Cool Wedding”). Several stories accomplish what Steve Almond declares the objective of his own fine, wild story of alleged alien visitation, “The Soul Molecule”: “to find a note of grace in the incontrovertibly strange.” Best are Brock Clarke’s Barthelmian fantasy about a victim of divorce who consoles himself by buying the city of Savannah (“For Those of Us Who Need Such Things”) and Ingrid Hill’s literally miraculous tale of a maimed Vietnam vet’s fortuitous collision with stoical black healer “Mother Peaches” (“The Ballad of Rappy Valcour”). And if traditional stories are your thing, don’t miss Paul Prather’s loving depiction of a group of elderly women who shepherd a rundown church through its inevitable demise (“The Faithful”).

Both the familiar and the strange are eloquently evoked and celebrated here: a model anthology.

Pub Date: July 11, 2003

ISBN: 1-56512-395-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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