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An Anthology of Contemporary Stories and Poetry
A Nick Hoffman Novel of Suspense
In Amina Gautier’s Brooklyn, some kids make it and some kids don’t, but not in simple ways or for stereotypical reasons. Gautier’s stories explore the lives of young African Americans who might all be classified as “at-risk,” yet who encounter different opportunities and dangers in their particular neighborhoods and schools and who see life through the lens of different family experiences.
Gautier’s focus is on quiet daily moments, even in extraordinary lives; her characters do not stand as emblems of a subculture but live and breathe as people. In “The Ease of Living,” the young teen Jason is sent down south to spend the summer with his grandfather after witnessing the double murder of his two best friends, and he is not happy about it. A season of sneaking into as many movies as possible on one ticket or dunking girls at the pool promises to turn into a summer of shower chairs and the smell of Ben-Gay in the unimaginably backwoods town of Tallahassee. In “Pan Is Dead,” two half-siblings watch as the heroin-addicted father of the older one works his way back into their mother’s life; in “Dance for Me,” a girl on scholarship at a posh Manhattan school teaches white girls to dance in the bathroom in order to be invited to a party.
As teenagers in complicated circumstances, each of Gautier’s characters is pushed in many directions. To succeed may entail unforgiveable compromises, and to follow their desires may lead to catastrophe. Yet within these stories they exist and can be seen as they are, in the moment of choosing.
“Soon or a little too lateeverything you never knewyou always wanted turns uphereat The Breakers”—from the book In her new novel At The Breakers, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, author of the widely praised and beloved Come and Go, Molly Snow, presents Jo Sinclair, a longtime single mother of four children. Fleeing an abusive relationship after a shocking attack, Jo finds herself in Sea Cove, New Jersey, in front of The Breakers, a salty old hotel in the process of renovation. Impulsively, she negotiates a job painting the guest rooms and settles in with her youngest child, thirteen-year-old Nick. As each room is transformed under brush and roller, Jo finds a way to renovate herself, reclaiming a promising life derailed by pregnancy and a forced marriage at age fourteen. Jo’s new life at the hotel features a memorable mix of locals and guests, among them Iris Zephyr, the hotel’s ninety-two-year-old permanent boarder; Charlie, a noble mixed-breed dog; Marco, owner of a nearby gas station/liquor store, who may become Jo’s next mistake; and enigmatic Wendy, her streetwise eighteen-year-old daughter, who signs on as housekeeper. Irrepressible Victor Mangold, Jo’s former professor and a well-known poet some twenty years her senior, invites himself to Thanksgiving dinner and into her life, his passion awakening Jo’s yearning for art and love. At The Breakers is a deeply felt and beautifully written novel about forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jo’s words, she is “trying to find the right way to live” as a long-suffering woman who is put through the fire and emerges with a chance at a full, rich life for herself and her children, if only she has the faith to take it.
In "Celibacy-by-the-Atlantic," Phil negotiates a lingering, low-intensity regret brought on by the annual family get-together at his parents' beach house, where memories of his aimless, privileged adolescence mingle with forebodings of his aimless, privileged middle age. In "A Lover's Guide to Hospitals," Carl lies in bed, pining over a stillborn romance through a moody, post-op haze of painkillers. As a consoling needle through the heart, the object of Carl's unrequited affections also turns out to be his nurse.
In "Burt Osborne Rules the World," a precocious boy ponders his childhood in "a world protected against anything you could imagine doing to make it more interesting." Sensing that only more of the same awaits him as an adult, Burt charts a different course--as a class clown with a truly toxic sense of mischief. Others, like Lydia in "Ralph Goes to Mexico," assert their individuality more effortlessly, for they're just too naturally odd to be cowed by convention. Lydia's dilemma is whether she should have her leukemic cat stuffed and mounted or turned into a hat after he dies.
These lyrical tales celebrate the ordinary--and the not so ordinary--with a flourish of Nabokovian wit that combines grandeur, kitsch, and the author's broad empathy with his characters.