THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1994

Despite some real snoozers, a solid, generally somber sampling of today's established short story writers. This annual collection (edited by former Ticknor & Fields editor Kenison) is what IBM once was in corporate America: steady, reliable, an organ of the establishment (i.e., the New Yorker), with few surprises for conservative investors—and never mind Apple (i.e., the Pushcart Prize Annual) racing off with a newer, better, funkier product line. Credit Tobias Wolff (In Pharaoh's Army, p. 1113) with letting in a few rays of innovation, although much of the book remains heavy slogging. The collection is weighted with depictions of family dynamics during times of death and separation, including Sherman Alexie's bleak tale of a poor Native American traveling to retrieve his father's body (``This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona''), Alice Elliott Dark's haunting story of a 33-year-old man moving back in with his suburban parents in order to die quietly from AIDS (``In the Gloaming''), David Gates's mind- numbingly boring presentation of a stroke victim's world view (``The Mail Lady''), and Christopher Tilghman's overwrought, turgid depiction of a couple's trauma watching their infant son die of cystic fibrosis (``Things Left Undone''). Humor is at a minimum here, with the exception of Stuart Dybek's brief meditation on not having sex in ``We Didn't'' and Jim Shepard's laugh-out-loud tale of a bumbling professional baseball player in the early '50s, ``Batting Against Castro.'' The few gems offer striking voices, namely those of the rambling, drug-addled narrator who tries to come to terms with his father's long-ago death in Barry Hannah's ``Nicodemus Bluff,'' of a brutally honest, fatalistic AIDS doctor who visits his sister at a mental hospital in Thom Jones's ``Cold Snap,'' and of a dam keeper, the narrator of Tony Earley's ``The Prophet From Jupiter,'' who jumbles history with raw, immediate emotions as he tells of his wife being impregnated by another man. Mostly safe, but with enough danger and excitement to make it worthwhile.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-68103-0

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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