A welcome reintroduction to the pioneering African-American writer's most memorable fictional character. Already a popular poet, playwright, novelist, and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes (1902-67) introduced Jesse B. Semple (``Simple'') to readers in 1942 in his Chicago Defender column, ``From Here to Yonder,'' as a way to convince black Americans to support the US war effort. From his familiar perch in a fictional Harlem bar, Simple held forth on a variety of subjects in his own inimitable, folksy way, and over the next 23 years his musings were collected in five volumes. The Return of Simple brings together mostly uncollected columns as well as a few favorites from previous collections. Simple's sometimes tall tales of growing up in the South and migrating to Harlem are timeless. Race riots, low wages, interracial marriages, adopting an African name, and birth control are some of the subjects on which he expounds to his erudite, educated fellow barfly, who always acts the straight man. Then there is Simple's favorite subject—``womens,'' including his wild cousin Minnie (``The Lord, I reckon, gave her them ball- bearing hips, but the Devil must of taught her how to use them''); Zarita, who is always ``drinking him up''; and his second wife, Joyce (``Eve in the garden could not be no better, because Eve had no stove on which to cook''). Simple speaks with a poetic and easy logic (``It is better to be wore out from living than to be worn out from worry'') in a voice that comes straight out of the African-American folk tradition, but Hughes's slices of urban black life belong also to the larger continuum of great American humor, from Mark Twain to Armistead Maupin. Quite simply, an indispensable part of our cultural heritage.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8090-8676-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1994

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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