From Publishers Weekly
Smith slips effortlessly into the voices of her funny, smarter-than-they-look characters in her latest collection (after News of the Spirit
), containing a handful of new works among some old favorites. In Toastmaster, a family's dinner outing is parsed from the point of view of a brainy 11-year-old who sees through the motivations of his flaky mother and demonstrates his powers of observation when a group of joking, drunken men enter the restaurant. Similarly, Big Girl allows an overweight wife who has sacrificed everything for her awful husband to tell her story while attaining the ultimate emancipation. Each tale is beautifully honed and captures in subtle detail and gentle irony the essential humanity of characters who might initially strike the reader as superficial or unsympathetic. House Tour, for instance, finds a cynical wife and mother contemplating her possible alcoholism when her house is overrun by an endearing group of similarly life-worn but irrepressible women who mistake her house for one on their home tour. Other tales about indomitable wives and mothers will be familiar to Smith's fans and round out this thoroughly enjoyable collection. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* This wonderful writer is a readers’-advisory librarian’s dream. Short stories, ordinarily a relatively hard sell to library patrons, are a different animal when they are Lee Smith’s short stories. In a very hospitable way of talking, reminiscent of Ellen Gilchrist’s style in her delicious writing, Smith offers stories that deliver an irresistible one-two punch. The first punch is—again, like Gilchrist—the humor that fills every page. She doesn’t poke fun at the ordinary folks who stock her fiction but gets us to see, by their plights and successes, the universal absurdity in their struggles to attain love and significance. The second punch is the meaningfulness of every story. All of us, in different garb, appear at some point in a Smith story. This collection contains 14 pieces, 7 new and 7 that have seen publication in previous collections. Bob, a Dog leads off, and it shows Smith in absolute control of her material; the eponymous character serves as a metaphor for freedom. The title story is entertaining and riveting from its first line, It was cocktail time. The most beautiful story is the very short Toastmaster, an imaginative narrative from the point of view of a bookish little boy. --Brad Hooper