A family tale that skillfully brings the magic of the Harlem Renaissance into the present.


A busy woman’s visit to an estranged relative reveals an unexpected family connection to a famous poet in this debut novel.

Tomorrow night, Carrie Stevens will be on the red-eye to Seattle, where her husband, Bill, has just accepted a new job. This afternoon, she needs to meet with her lawyer to finalize the sale of their condo. But first, she has to go to Harlem to keep a promise she made to her recently deceased father. Her dad’s cousin Ella is being thrown out of her apartment—the entire building is about to be demolished—and Carrie needs to get her into an assisted living facility. “She has a gift for you,” her father’s final note reads. “It’s something of value that I’m ashamed that I couldn’t give you—and too afraid to give you myself. Carrie, I want this to make it right. I want you to be happy.” Carrie only met Ella as a baby. Carrie’s mother thought Ella, a cabaret dancer who lived for years in Paris, would be a bad influence. When Carrie arrives, the elderly Ella immediately insists that she is not moving anywhere. Ella turns out to be full of surprises. She has severe, mysterious facial scars, for one. She has a man named Jack living there with her, for another. Perhaps craziest of all, she has lots of pictures and books by poet Langston Hughes, who it turns out was her cousin—and Carrie’s father’s cousin as well. Langston and Carrie’s dad didn’t get along, unfortunately. As Carrie desperately tries to pack some of the woman’s things into the bags she brought, Ella offers hints and anecdotes about her past—and draws a few out of her visitor as well. But what is this mysterious gift that Ella supposedly has? Well, in Ella’s words, Carrie will have to earn it.

Skeeter’s prose is as smooth and confident as Ella herself: “I saw that Jack’s cane was on the sofa and he was leaning on Ella. They were dancing jerkily, as fast as their old legs would let them. Actually, they kept up with the beat very well. In that living room with its many decades-old artifacts, they could have been dancing in Paris or Harlem in their heyday.” The novel cleverly mourns the lost world of Jazz Age Harlem, as represented by an apartment full of artifacts that is literally about to be knocked down. The supporting characters—including Hughes, a ghost who casts his iconic shadow over all the rest—are well drawn, and Carrie is a relatable and likable protagonist. The roles that Carrie and Ella play in regard to each other—Carrie wanted to be a dancer herself, and Ella is essentially a fairy godmother—are perhaps a bit too neat, and readers will quickly surmise where the story is headed. That said, the author is a capable writer, and the world that she creates is evocative and amusing enough for readers to happily linger in for the book’s breezy, 206-page length.

A family tale that skillfully brings the magic of the Harlem Renaissance into the present.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950584-19-2

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Green Writers Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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