Now that this excellent series is firmly established among must-read annuals, Ravenel should skip the apologetic introductions in which she repeatedly tries to justify the regional basis for her anthology. The evidence speaks for itself here—16 stories by or about southerners that embrace a wide range of literary and geographical experience. Many of the stories focus on coming-of-age in the South, from Nanci Kincaid's teenage girls hanging out at a Tallahassee movie theater (``This is Not the Picture Show'') to Jill McCorkle's shy young girl who lives vicariously through the postcards form her wild, older sister (``Waiting for the Hard Times to End''). Young people deal with domestic tragedy in Barbara Hudson's ``The Arabesque,'' the story of two sisters confronted by their mother's madness and early death; in Rick Bass's ``In the Loyal Mountains,'' a beautifully written profile of the narrator's big-spending Texan uncle who commits suicide rather than suffer the consequences of his shady business dealings; and in Reynolds Price's overwrought ``His Final Mother,'' a boy's meditation on his mother's sudden death. Lee Smith's ``Intensive Care,'' the story of a former high-school nerd who pursues an improbable passion, confronts death with a healthy dose of schmaltz. The least convincing narrative voices here include the successful Vietnamese immigrant in Robert Olen Butler's ``Relic,'' the young grandmother of Bobbie Ann Mason's typically hard-luck ``With Jazz,'' and the drunk and sexually inadequate good old boy of Larry Brown's ``Big Bad Love.'' The strongest pieces range from Mark Richard's hilarious and sad tale of boys in an orphanage hospital on Christmas Eve (``The Birds for Christmas'') to Susan Starr Richards's unusual paean to porch life and the strange bonds of sisters in ``The Screened Porch.'' Robert Morgan's story of a Civil War-era stone mason (``Poinsett's Bridge'') and Thomas Phillips Brewer's riff on southern junkies (``Black Cat Bone'') add an interesting dimension to a somewhat homogeneous volume. Peter Taylor's graceful and evocative ``Cousin Aubrey'' easily earns its lead-off position. Once again, southern fiction mostly at its best.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-82-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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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

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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