Eleven debut stories from a voice determined to transcend the barrier of race.
Allen’s characters are mostly African-American, but you’d never really know it—these pieces often take place without the subject of race ever coming to the fore. Unlike a lot of fiction based on American racial tension, Allen’s tales shoot for a deeper, more profound experience, one that sometimes includes race but never relies on it. “Carved in Vinyl” concerns a woman whose assent into middle age triggers memories of a simpler time, when things were all “boss” and R&B; the title story follows a man on what may be his final ride home from work, an event inspiring quiet contemplation of life and marriage; the movement of a circus from town to town (“Mud Show”) makes for a convincing period piece and a potentially violent forum when an elephant gets sick and may go haywire; while “Marisol’s Things” follows two young sisters as they make the trek through childhood, young adulthood, eventual estrangement, and finally a subtle form of forgiveness. “Keep Looking” is a second-person account of a woman in a bookstore who feels a man’s eyes on her back; and another woman’s unusual medical condition makes for the stuff of freak shows in a period piece set in 1919. Much of the time, there seems a need in Allen to resist the penetration of race into her stories—and it’s a relief that she succeeds in banishing that customary obligation, to the extent she can, as does Tiffany, in “Yearbook:”: “She clenches the cross in a fist, reels back, and throws it as far away from her as she can. But it is very light, and travels only a few yards before it drops in the grass and lies there, glinting dully back at her.”
Refreshingly simple: A flexible new voice able to record the more subtle effects of racial tension.