Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.

THE LAST SUSPICIOUS HOLDOUT

Short stories brimming with societal nuance and human complexity offer a penetrating overview of urban Black America near the turn of the 21st century.

In her previous novels, The Talented Ribkins (2017) and The Rib King (2021), Hubbard showed narrative ingenuity, tough-minded intelligence, and a refined sense of character in her depictions of African Americans swept up by history. These virtues—and, it turns out, many others—are on display in this collection of 13 stories set in and around an unnamed Southern metropolis resembling Hubbard’s native New Orleans and arranged in chronological order from 1992 to 2007. “Trash,” for example, is set in 2005, the same year as Hurricane Katrina, and, in dealing with characters coping with the storm’s grisly aftermath, mentions many familiar landmarks and neighborhoods. The title character of “Henry" is a bartender who, in 1993, is struggling to keep his business afloat while helping to defend his activist brother, Leon, who was convicted of murder eight years earlier and has since become a cause célèbre in the Black community. A story set the following year, “Bitch: An Etymology of Family Values,” introduces Millie Jones, who makes anonymous phone calls alerting a Black councilman’s wife to her husband’s extramarital dalliances. Millie turns up again in the title story, set in 2001, this time working for the Leon Moore Center for Creative Unity, which has been implicated in the vandalism of a hamburger franchise in the neighborhood. By the way, that story is the collection’s centerpiece, not just for its novellalike length, but for the astute social observations, textured characterizations, and deep affection for its landscape that are emblematic of Hubbard’s writing. Nothing seems lost or shortchanged in presenting this panorama of Black lives, whether disparities in social class, creeping gentrification, or the arduous, at times heroic efforts of even the poorest community residents to retain grace, decorum, and some autonomy over their surroundings.

Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-297909-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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