Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

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Dixon's new collection explores the heart of an aging man's life.

Why isn’t Dixon a household name? The author of more than 30 novels and collections of short stories, he is regarded, when he is regarded, as a “writer’s writer,” which is about as backhanded as a compliment can get. Yet his writing, which is plainspoken and deceptively straightforward, is the sort that sticks with you, because it cuts to the uncertainty of life. His new collection is a case in point: 31 linked stories about a writer named Philip Seidel, who is wrestling with the depredations of age. Seidel’s chronology and Dixon’s overlap—both live and work in Baltimore (Dixon taught writing at Johns Hopkins for many years) and both are recently widowed (Dixon’s wife, the poet and translator Anne Frydman, died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2009). But don’t let that confuse you into thinking these efforts are thinly veiled autobiography. Rather, they offer moment-by-moment deep dives into longing and despair and forgetfulness, memory and fantasy. In the opening story, “Wife in Reverse,” Dixon traces the dynamic of a marriage in a page and a half, beginning with the death of the protagonist’s spouse and ending with their first meeting three decades before. In the second, he imagines the paralyzing loss of an adult child. What he is evoking is possibility, conditionality, the sense that everything could change, or fall apart, in any given instant. That this is the essence of fiction goes without saying; it has been the impetus behind Dixon’s project all along. And yet, in this stirring and heartfelt book, Dixon goes beyond loss into the kind of preservation that only literature can provide. That’s not to say his stories traffic in illusion; perhaps projection is a better word. “Remember” delineates, in excruciating detail, the slow forgetting of its aging protagonist (“He feels his fly. It’s open; forgot again. Makes him even more worried about himself”), while the stunning “Just What Is” and “Just What Is Not” investigate two sides of an affair that never was, highlighting the tension between inner and outer life. In the end, nothing happens, although, of course, everything does. Or, as Dixon observes in the transcendent “Missing Out,” which imagines an alternate life in which Seidel never met the wife who has left him widowed: “Nothing. I told you. It was all in my head. Was I in dreamland? You bet. Not that she would have been interested in me.”

Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940430-87-4

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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