From Publishers Weekly
Like last year's edition, the 19th installment of this annual showcase of Southern short fiction is exciting but uneven. The collection gets off to a fine start with Pulitzer winner Edward P. Jones (in his affecting "A Rich Man," a man seeking lost youth gets a lot more than he bargained for) and Chris Offutt (the simple but touching "Second Hand," in which a woman pawns her prized boots for a chance to make a third-grader happy). But while Rick Bass's "Pagans" unfolds as an affecting, rich evocation of young love, it's meandering and overwritten. Though certainly not filled with humor, this year's collection—with offerings like George Singleton's "Raise Children Here," Brock Clarke's "The Lolita School" and Drew Perry's "Love Is Gnats Today"—reflects a less somber view than the 2003 edition. Still, Silas House's "Coal Smoke" and Michael Knight's "Feeling Lucky" are bleak, and Ann Pancake's "Dog Song" is both haunting and gruesome. Jill McCorkle's "Intervention," the tale of a woman's complicated devotion to her alcoholic husband, shines. Breast fixation, race, pre–World War I sex education, the shadow of death, a nasty parrot, reconciliation and an iconoclastic docent are subjects explored by rising stars, including Starkey Flythe Jr., Tayari Jones, K.A. Longstreet, Annette Sanford, Bret Anthony Johnston and R.T. Smith. Reflections on the stories by the authors themselves add another layer of pleasure to this volume.
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There's something for everyone in the nineteenth publication of this noteworthy annual anthology, with its mix of lesser- and better-known authors. Among the latter, Edward P. Jones returns a character from an earlier story who brings woe upon an aging widower in "A Rich Man," and Jill McCorkle illuminates an indestructible marriage bond in "Intervention." Bygone Virginia is evoked in "The Judgement of Paris" by K. A. Longstreet, with a pharmacist's son supplying fellow cadets with condoms at VMI in 1912, and in "Docent" by R. T. Smith, with a dowager putting her own spin on the past for Washington and Lee University visitors. Farther south, things get wackier. In George Singleton's "Raise Children Here," a young man, writing for a Fodor guide of places to avoid completely, gets an unexpected reception in Claxton, Georgia, fruitcake capital of the world. Authors' endnotes about their inspirations for these 18 stories enrich the volume. Michele LeberCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved