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I Knew You'd Be Lovely
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In high school and college English majors are often made to read the short story. I am grateful for this fact. "Parker's Back" by O'Conner, Faulkner's "Barn Burnings" and Miss Emily's Rose" are examples of the vignette medium that powerfully moved me. But, as a whole, for the past 50 years, I have mainly read novels, selfishly demanding more; more experience.; more in-depth character study; more profound connection. Alethea Black, the author of "I Knew You Would Be Lovely" brought me back to the pleasure of condensed brilliance. Thirteen vignettes of life are proffered in this short story collection; multiple insights into relationships with oneself, with friends, with family and with one's truths left me deeply stirred.

Of course I had my favorites...."Mollusks Make A Comeback." Katie, a woman afraid to try for more spoke solemnly through humor and jarred an "aha moment" so profound in me I am still shaking. What more can you demand of a story? Other favorites...."Someday is Today," "The Summer Before" and "Good In A Crisis" All thirteen invoked emotions and understanding I didn't know myself capable of. What more can be asked of a well crafted tale?

Alethea Black talent lies in her balance, intuitiveness, tenderness, sarcastic wit, shock value, humor and compassion. How could I ask anything more from a genius wordsmith?

Read at your own risk knowing par writing will most probably not be enough for you again. When you read extraordinary it is hard to lower that bar back down.

Thanks, Ms. Black, for insights and inspirations into your stories conceptions and birth.

In homage to "We've Got a Great Future Behind" us I simply sing, "it's close enough to perfect for me."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 19, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While outside the pantheon of the types of stories I have been reading lately, each story in "I Knew You'd be Lovely" took me back to the days of college literature courses where a disproportionate number of the short stories I read affected me deeply.

Each story in this collection is a tiny world all its own. They are amazingly, blissfully complete and, while they say to leave them wanting more at the end of short stories, they are also very satisfying. There is no one story so like another that it seems like a retread.

Here's the list of the stories published in this collection:

That of Which We Cannot Speak
The Only Way Out is Through
Good in a Crisis
The Thing Itself
The Laziest Form of Revelation
The Summer Before
Mollusk Makes a Comeback
I Knew You'd be Lovely
Proof of Love
We've Got a Great Future Behind Us
Double-Blind
The Far Side of the Moon
Someday is Today

The stories are memorable, heartbreaking, stimulating, exciting, humorous, honest, and thought provoking - more frequently all of these within a single story.

Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to pick a favorite (a great problem to have), but "The Summer Before" gave me my strongest reaction: when the youngest sister was left on the dock, it made me relive the feeling of abandonment you can only get from older siblings. Alethea Black was able to do all that for me from the perspective of one of the older sisters and without sentimentality.

I think that shows true talent, and there are more examples of her powerful abilities on practically every page of this book. This is real literature.

I received this book at no cost as a member of the Vine Program.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 1, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The thirteen stories in this slim but satisfying debut collection deal, as so much contemporary fiction does, with characters bowing under the weight of ordinary tragedies and confusions: a broken marriage, a troubled teenager, a midlife crisis, a widowed sister. Some offer the small epiphanies of minimalist fiction, while others are slices of life. Alethea Black avoids the dull-as-dishwater quality of less than successful stories of this type by presenting characters who are quirkily funny without losing the human touch (one plans to rewrite the Bible in the style of Dr. Seuss-- a hilarious sample is provided), and with her own dry voice, which finds the humor in unbearable grief, divorced sniping, and sincere religious faith. In a few cases the epiphanies feel forced or excessively on-the-nose, but generally they capture the transitory nature of life without feeling pat or saccharine. The prose is occasionally a little awkward, but to a remarkable extent Black has found a distinctive style and made it her own. Story notes by the author reflect her gift for recognizing powerful moments and translating them into fiction.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 27, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Short story collections can be tough. Of those I've read, it's the rare instance when I love most or all of those contained in a volume. Even if I'm a huge fan of a particular writer.

But even if there is only one story that touches or moves you, it's worth your time. Such may be the case with this collection. Sampling these stories is the equivalent of stepping out of your comfort zone to try different types of dance, theater or music. You never know.

This author grabbed my gut and heart with her first story in this volume, "That of Which We Cannot Speak," a story I could relate to on so many levels. Sometimes it feels as if an author has been observing your own life and chronicling it, but of course injecting far more intriguing and witty dialogue! The challenge of what to say, and when, and how to say it, is sweetly played out here with a clever device.

I laughed, again with recognition, through "We've Got a Great Future Ahead of Us." If you've ever worked with creative types, you'll relate to this piece about two songwriters who reunited at the behest (well, maybe a bit of emotional blackmail is involved here, but for a good cause) of a former associate.

I reread "Proof of Love" twice but it still left me bewildered. Just could not relate to the characters or the situation.

Overall, I feel this collection may resonate more for younger, female readers in terms of the situations and the characters. It's hard to review short stories since it's often not about writing style, or tone, or even POV. For me, it's a case of a/can I relate; b/it makes me see something in a whole new way; c/it makes me laugh or d/it touches my heart. Quite a few of these stories met that criteria.

It was hard to really find a theme or overall POV on these.

It took me quite a few sessions to get thru the book. It just didn't grab me enough to keep going although there were lines of dialogue or setups in almost every story that I noted. (Sometimes the clever titles were more intriguing than the actual stories. Perhaps the titles raised my expectations.)

A big plus, and something I greatly enjoyed, were the Author's notes, which provided a bit of backstory.

Depending on your life, you may find these stories far more interesting than I did.

So, come without expectations, and see where the words and stories take you. You really have nothing to loose, given these quick reads. There's bound to be one or more that will make it worth your while.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 21, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a sucker for excellent short stories, I approached "I Knew You'd Be Lovely" not knowing what to expect, only that its author had published in some of the top literary magazines and had a good reputation. As it happens, that reputation is well-deserved. This collection reveals a writer of enormous depth, talent, wit and wisdom, who manages to mine everyday encounters and situations for raw material that she transforms into exquisitely wrought vignettes so vivid that it feels as if we're spying on her characters' private lives...which, of course, we are.

It's hard to choose a favorite among the 13 stories included here, but I especially liked "The Only Way Out Is Through," about a father's relationship with his troubled son; "We've Got a Great Future Behind Us," about the reunion of an acrimoniously divorced, formerly successful singer-songwriting duo and their hard-up friend, who is cashing in on their promise to collaborate with him on a song; and "Good in a Crisis," about a teacher in the midst of a career crisis, who visits the teacher who inspired her. I also liked "Proof of Love," though found the main character's love affair with God a bit hard to take, just as the object of her affection does.

An utterly contemporary collection, sprinkled with references to popular culture, it deals with timeless human issues: love in all its forms, sibling rivalries, jealousy, work, doubt, loss, fulfillment, disappointment. Given Alethea Black's relative youth, it reminded me a bit of Ethan Canin's early, preternatural ability to channel the hearts and minds of characters much older and more experienced than he was, in his superb debut collection, "Emperor of the Air" (which is high praise indeed, as he is one of my favorite writers), though most of her characters are in their 20s and 30s. But in her ability to access their deepest emotional places with profound insight and warmth, she clearly is wise far beyond her years. I thoroughly enjoyed "I Knew You'd Be Lovely" and hope it presages more wonderful things from this gifted writer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you don't usually read short stories, consider making an exception for this entertaining little collection.
There are plenty of good reasons to read these stories, but the best reason of all is just for pure delight. Alethea Black is someone you'd like to have for a friend so you could enjoy her playful nature and the funny lines she loves to share. Every day when I sat down to read a story or two, I couldn't wait to find out what new way she'd find to delight me.

There are thirteen stories in this collection. Some are hilarious, some deeper and more sorrowful. Even the stories with a more serious tone contain an element of play and a joy in the creative use of language. Black finds fresh and surprising ways to present a serious message. In "That of Which We Cannot Speak" she addresses the banality of small talk using a character with laryngitis who shows up at a party with a clipboard around her neck for writing what she needs to say.

There are a couple of themes that seem to run through many of the stories. One theme follows the consequences of not being entirely honest with those closest to us. We don't get what we need because we withhold the truth. In "The Laziest Form of Revelation," we see how being naked in front of someone is a cheap substitute for sharing your authentic self.

The second theme in the collection is that of characters on the verge of something new in life---maybe something better, maybe just something different. In "Mollusk Makes a Comeback," Katie is a young woman for whom Murphy's Law seems to have been custom-made. But by the end of the story, you know her hopeful nature will help her keep believing she's "just about to get to the good part."

The author's notes about each story are a wonderful and revealing addition. She shares how she got the ideas for her stories and some of her process in writing them.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Every now and then, a debut short story collection appears that makes me sit up and take notice - Interpreter of Maladies, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, and You Are Not A Stranger here, to name three. Alethea Black has taken her place as a short story writer who shows amazing promise.

Some of the stories in I Knew You'd Be Lovely are very good and others are excellent. There are none that are bad. She writes like a dream, summing up the unpredictable human condition with insight and perceptive and more often than not, a subtle sense of humor.

It took me two-thirds of the way until I had that "eureka" moment: "Aha, this is a book about beginnings." Take her story That Of Which We Cannot Speak, for example. Bradley, a man who is struggling to find his way back to center after his marriage implodes, meets an attractive doctor with laryngitis at a noisy party. They communicate with a clipboard and, in an unspoken way, find a connection.

Or take the story The Only Way Out Is Through. An accidental father takes his very emotionally disturbed son on a camping trip. An act of impending horror is the catalyst for him to reveal the magical time of the son's birth, ending with, "Sometimes you don't know what you want until you get it."

Or, one of my favorites, Good In A Crisis. Ginny, an aloof teacher, is resolved to avoid marriage at all costs, supporting her aversion with specific examples: a good friend's husband taped The X-Files over their wedding videos. Eventually, she finds her way to her first crush, her older and still attractive and single high school teacher. The story of their meeting is real and poignant and fresh a Ginny starts "climbing the stairs - very slowly, like a woman sleepwalking, incapable of imaging the dream that awaits her when she wakes up."

The title story I Knew You'd Be Lovely, focuses on Hannah, a woman who is searching for the perfect gift for Tom, one this is "prescient, ingenious, unique, unforgettable." I won't spoil the fun in revealing what that "gift" turns out to be.

At the end of the book, Alethea Black writes, "I love it when authors share the backstories to stories and snippets about their creative process." And she proceeds to do just that, letting the reader know what inspired her to write each story.

Except one.

That story closes the collection and it's called Someday is Today, a highly personal and poignant story about the death of her young brother-in-law and a potentially life-altering decision that her sister requests of her. It is a beautifully-written and in its own way, it, too, is about new beginnings.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The short stories in this collection of thirteen have the virtues of brevity and clarity. None are padded with extraneous material added just to give a sense of literary heft. None are unduly cerebral, dense for the sake of density. None are overly cute or determinedly chic, trying to impress the reader with the fact that the author is clever or hip. All have, for me, unexpected endings, final twists in the last page or two, that are sometimes satisfying, sometiems fall flat, and in one instance, taken from the story that gives the volume its title, sort of peposterous.

Most of the thirteen are pleasant to read, written in a workmanlike way by an author who understands that her craft is a demanding one. Some, though, seem unduly contrived, as if the author is trying a bit too hard to be interesting, and aware that she's not quite succeeding.

The dialogue, for the most part, is adequate, but occasionally leans to heavily on cliche's, hackneyed locutions, and adolescent efforts at humor or depth. I imagine the author knows this, that she pondered each instance for some time, came back to it later, and finally caved in when nothing more original or less trite occured to her. We've all done that. Now and then it seems that cliche's and hackneyed locutions are all we've got. In that sense they may add realism to the stories.

In her last story, Someday is Today, the author gives us one of the niftiest ever self-selected kid's names, Saltine Teacup, the sort of incongruous and sweet combination of concepts and sounds that only a child's still-supple imagination could spontaneously put together.

Too often, however, the stories do seem contrived and artificial. Yes, I know, that is the nature of fiction and, to a greater or lesser degree, all other literary genres. Stories, novels, poems, essays, monographs are painstakingly constructed. With fiction, especially, the key is not making it quite so evident. The ending of the story "Proof of Love" is a painful case in point: "You're God has some explaining to do. I've waited Long enough. I'm tired of waiting," cries a would-be lover rendered impotent by anti-depressants that help him avoid his father's tragic example and commit suicide. Seems both trite and heavy-handed. But then, sometimes life is that way.

In the early '60's the Saturday Evening Post occasionally published short stories. I recall one written by a very nice and intelligent man who taught me English composition at the local state college. Titled "Drowning Victim," the irony may have been a bit too thick and obvious when we realize that, yes, there was a drowning in an indoor pool, but the one suffering most was the lifeguard who, in spite of his best efforts, was unable to revive a hapless swimmer.

It was a good story with an uplifting ending, workmanlike and just a bit formulaic, but an honest effort at writing fiction that held the reader's attention and had a message, not profound but genuine. That, I think, is the kind of story Althea Black has tried to write, and she's had some success.

Reading the thirteen stories in "I Knew You'd Be Lovely" is not an exercise in plumbing the existential depths of what it means to be human, but so what? We catch some glimpses. After all, much of life is pedestrian, lacking in subtlety, and chock full of cliche's, bromides, platitudes, and an inability to break free of familiar patterns.

I usually don't anguish over the number of stars to give a book. In this case I was inclined toward three: the author has written pretty well and her work shows promise, but the sure-handed sophistication of a veteran prose stylist with a lifetime of interesting ideas is missing. I admit to being uncomfortable with the fact that all the other reviews are fours and fives. However, quoting approvingly from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (see the story "We've Got a Great Future Behind Us) raises questions about taste and judgement, just the sort of slip I can grab on to to give me a bit more confidence in my three-star rating.

Anyhow, if you read the stories in Althea Black's collection you'll be entertained. You'll also be reminded that trust is an issue of universal importance and can be a source of life-long difficulty or strength. And you may very well be inclined to the view that my solid but unexceptional three star rating under-rates the volume's quality.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Alethea Black has somehow found the secret of turning emotions into words and then getting them onto pages.

Short stories are not usually my favorite form of reading material. I usually get to the end of the stories and feel like there are huge holes that will never be filled - because only the author knows what should have gone in those holes. But Black binds all the stories in this collection up neatly and I don't feel like I'm left hanging. Each word is just right - great wordsmithing.

I loved "Good in a Crisis" - yea to all out Mr. Hennesseys (or our dreams of them); "The Summer Before" - I was always Lindsay; "Mollusk Makes a Comeback" - another part of my life; "I Knew You'd Be Lovely" - perfectly written story; and "Someday is Today" - heartwrenching.

I appreciated the author's notes on her stories. They provided insight into the stories - and the author.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2012
The book began with some real knockout stories. Ann Lamott compared Black to Laurie Colwin and that was the attraction for me. The book also ended with a very powerful story that felt like a memoir. Unfortunately in the middle were several slight stories with too cute endings. I don't blame Black for this. I suspect an agent rushed her into publishing a book on the basis of one or two stories. Also I think it totally wrecks the magic of fiction to lift the curtain and have the Wizard show the smoke and mirrors that create Oz. Still Alathea Black is a short story writer to watch. Good short story writers anywhere near Laurie Colwin are rare as hound's teeth, and much appreciated when they debut. Several, though not all of the stories were that good.
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