A slim volume packed with rugged tales and smart, brawny characters.

HOW TO BE A MAN

Short stories on ranching and relationships.

Linse grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, broke her leg at 4 and a horse at 12. While her debut collection of stories spans 15 years of writing and vast narrative terrain, she never strays far from her roots. The folks who swagger and steal through these stories are tough; they’ve had it tough, but Linse carries them handily. In the title story, Birdie Gunderson is a farm girl but sees herself as neither girl nor boy but “an efficient cog in the machinery of the farm.” The story reads as a series of affirmations as a teenager struggles for identity amid the forces of society and tradition. Linse vividly renders the story with details likely gleaned from experience: using bag balm for cow teats as lip gloss; pollinating tomato plants at sunset. Strong women and girls dominate the collection. In “Nose to the Fence,” 14-year-old Cindy breaks in horses and city boys with arms made muscular by bailing hay. In “Mouse,” a 10-year-old rescues baby mice from the irrigation ditch but accepts their fate and dispatches each one with a heavy stone. Though less nuanced, Linse’s male narrators still hold the stories together. “Revelations,” for example, is full of bravado: With disjointed dialogue, three friends vie for control over women, nature and each other. “Hard Men” opens in perfect, deranged passion: Teenage Johnny has shot his father; the pizza man decomposes in the bathtub; Linse deftly sets the scene, weaves in back story, and adds a waft of bacon and the feel of blood through Scotchgarded carpet. Like most of Linse’s characters, Johnny is clever, and he wrangles the unfathomable to a rational end. But the end comes too soon—Johnny raises more questions than several pages can answer, as do Cindy, Mouse, Birdie and others. Linse writes as if flexing her own ranch-toned muscles, creating intense, original characters and letting them loose. The result could fill a novel—or two. All bodes well for Linse’s future work.

A slim volume packed with rugged tales and smart, brawny characters.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9913867-0-3

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Willow Words

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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