THE WEDDING CAKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

23 VARIATIONS ON A THEME

National Public Radio personality Stamberg, along with novelist Garrett, got the bright idea to have 23 writers—Richard Bausch, Ann Beattie, Madison Smartt Bell, Stuart Dybek, and a host of others—work independently of each other on a story that incorporates the title image. The resulting anthology—some of these stories were first read on NPR—is more a novelty item than a worthy dive into contemporary fiction. Dybek's ``I Never Told This to Anyone'' is a touching fabulism about ``a little bride and groom'' who ``would come to visit me at night,'' though it's more self-conscious and mannered than Dybek's better work; Charles Baxter's ``Possum'' is an amusing dialogue story, mostly between a sister and her younger brother; Kelly Cherry's title story is a delicate but all-too-brief prose poem; Bausch's ``Tandolfo, the Great,'' about a clown who loses his cool at a birthday party for a five-year-old, is clever but forced; Beattie's ``Picture Perfect'' is a slight present-tense account that combines Virginia Woolfian lyricism and some notes (one character is a photographer) on perspective. The three most affecting tales—in their own right, not as variations on a theme- -are Al Young's ``The Subliminal Cakewalk Breakdown,'' in which a narrator, forced to leave the California freeway, breaks down at a zany, surreal truck-stop and becomes involved in the lives he finds there; Bell's ``Pawnshop,'' about a narrator at said pawnshop who must deal with a junkie friend and with his own conscience; and Mary Lee Settle's ``Dogs,'' an evocative southern reminiscence. Stamberg tells us she came to this idea after having writers concoct first a chain novel and then a chain mystery. Such ideas make sense to fill air time, but aren't particularly worth memorializing in a gimmicky book like this.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-393-03080-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1991

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

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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