A welcome addition to the run of established short story annuals, promising good work to come.

READ REVIEW

PEN AMERICA BEST DEBUT SHORT STORIES 2017

Worthy showcase of winning short fiction by recipients of a newly established PEN prize.

The Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize honors work by emerging writers published in North America, and the range of publications represented here is refreshingly broad: it includes not just the usual suspects (Boston Review, Southwest Review), but also journals that are themselves emerging into broader view (Epiphany, Hyphen). The judges' choices are uniformly solid; the stories are widely situated but with some points in common. Many feature family members in dramatic situations. In Ruth Serven’s very short story “A Message,” a mysterious father is revealed to have households scattered across the Balkans: “You say that someday you’ll find each of your siblings. Your father will buy a house and you’ll all live together. Like Full House.” The pop-culture references aren’t confined to 1980s nostalgia; in Emily Chammah’s lovely “Tell Me, Please,” two Jordanian sisters reveal only so much of themselves on their Facebook pages, disguising the fact that they’re “from the Beni Hasan tribe, that we live in Mafrag, that we attend Al al-Bayt University.” When their father discovers that one of the girls is reading Animal Farm, in which, as one of the sisters puts it, pigs take over a farm, he moans, “My God, what is happening in my home?” Here a Russian émigrée of indeterminate age sees a golden hawk that, she is impatiently told, does not exist; there a Korean couple drink like fish, “as if we girls are invisible,” as one daughter puts it, just one moment of the familial minefield the children have to traverse. Perhaps the best single moment, from a story by writer Grace Oluseyi, involves two Nigerians, tentatively dating, who bond over sushi, the woman saying to the man, “I was thinking about my grandmother, back home. And how she would be horrified that we would pay to eat raw fish.”

A welcome addition to the run of established short story annuals, promising good work to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-936787-68-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

more