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The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks Paperback – Bargain Price, April 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Russell Banks (The Sweet Hereafter, Affliction) started out as a poet, and nowhere is this more evident than in his 37 years' worth of exquisite short stories, collected here in one hefty volume for the first time. In a mournfully lyrical phrase, he can evoke his characteristic landscape, the icy northeastern U.S.: "The air was crystalline, almost absent. The fields lay like aged plates of bone--dry, scoured by the cold until barren of possibility, incapable even of decomposition." Though his stories venture to Jamaica and Africa, Banks keeps coming back to New Hampshire and the themes of divorce, poverty, violence, and what he calls "the old father-and-son thing." He's not slumming in his trailer-park tales: his own drunken prole father beat him brutally, and Banks knows how grief and guilt shatter and unite families and small towns.

Characters often crop up in more than one story, giving the setting novelistic depth, drawing us into each life. In "Queen for a Day," we meet the young children of the Painter clan of New Hampshire as their dad is abandoning their mom, who then loses her job. "They run to her and wrap her in their arms... the three of them wind around each other like snakes moving in and out of one another's coils." In "Firewood," Painter's grown children rebuff his offer of fuel for their hearth, repaying his indifference, and Banks gives us a bad-guy's-eye view of their shared loneliness. In "The Fisherman," a $50,000 lottery is won by an old ice fisherman who stashes it in a cigar box, eliciting character-revealing reactions from the trailer-park denizens. "Dis Bwoy, Him Gwan" further reveals why the local pothead Bruce Severance so urgently needs the fisherman's money. The stories resonate and illuminate each other, the dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the collection has the cohesiveness of a 500-page novel. Banks's prose has the stark grace of classical tragedy. He's a poet after all. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Two-thirds of the 32 stories in this magnificent collection have appeared before, in the four volumes of short fiction Banks has published over the past 25 years; all, including nine new ones, were chosen by the author as representative of work that "did not on rereading make me cringe." Banks is a born short story writer and confesses he loves the form; in many of the entries here, the impact is all the more powerful for the intense concentration he brings to bear on the desperate lives he so often chooses to chronicle. The best of these tales, many of them set in the sad New Hampshire trailer park that was the basis for an entire collection of linked tales, tell of the anguish of parents and children moving apart, of husbands and wives and lovers facing the grim certainty that nothing in their relationships is going to change or improve. "The Burden," about a man's despairing break with his no-good son; "Quality Time," about a daughter realizing she has finally moved away from her father; "Firewood," about a couple trapped by ruined expectations; and "Queen for a Day," about a small boy's efforts to cheer up his failing mother, are almost unbearably poignant, unflinching glimpses into the dark recesses of life, illuminated by Banks's unfailing compassion and steady eye and ear. These stories, like his wintry northern landscapes, are deeply lived in. Yet Banks can be equally evocative of exotic corners of the world, as in "Djinn" and "The Fish," mysterious fables set in Africa and India. Only in such flights as "Indisposed," an imagining of William Hogarth's wife, or "With Che in New Hampshire," in which he mixes myth and actuality, does Banks seem on more tentative ground. But most of the stories strike home swiftly and surely, reminding a reader again and again of the amplitude of the form in the hands of a master. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931254
  • ASIN: B0046LUDBA
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,799,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Russell Banks is the author of sixteen works of fiction, many of which depict seismic events in US history, such as the fictionalized journey of John Brown in Cloudsplitter. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes, and two of his novels-The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction-have been made into award-winning films. His forthcoming novel, The Reserve, will be published in early 2008. President of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks lives in upstate New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Russell Banks knows how to tell a story. He can vary his technique from intimate to grand scale and can interchange voices so you're never sure whether he is writing autobiography or pure fiction. In ANGEL ON THE ROOF he gives us stories that span a long period of his output and while each of the stories stands on its own (at times even in a short 5 or 6 pages)there is enough linkage or afterthoughts that somehow tie this collection together. Yes, the stories are intensely interesting individually and do continue to show Banks' feelings about the alienation and abuse of parent-child relationships, and people in general, and yes they can be read individually as a bedside book for finding somnolence. But to stop reading these collected stories as a book would rob the reader of the tangents that make for enhancing the experince as a novel. For sheer clarity of line, pungent descriptions of the quality of air/space/cold/skies etc Banks is as good as contemporary writers get. This is a richly rewarding book on so many levels that it clearly belongs in every library...with frequent easy access!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Federico (Fred) Moramarco VINE VOICE on June 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Russell Banks is known primarily as a novelist, but his collected short stories show him to be a master of the shorter form as well. Some of these stories--like "Success Story" and "Fisherman" are masterpieces--the latter having affinities with Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." Banks is at his best when he writes about New England working class people who live in trailer parks, drink lots of booze, and whose lives are bounded and limited by solitude and lonliness. This collection follows in the realistic tradition of Ray Carver's "Where I'm Calling From." Both writers present us with a disctinctly male view of the world, and they have great feeling and empathy for their characters.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Bronchetti on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I had never heard of Russel Banks until I picked up a copy of The Sweet Hearafter. Being from a small town in Northern, New York I immediately identified with the characters and the feeling that Banks is able to bring forth in his writing of small town life in depressed areas. I proceeded to read everthing he has ever written. I found myself learning something new in each of the books and invigorated by the diversity in his writing. Banks does not deliver in each of his short stories in this collection but who ever does. Many such as Plains of Abraham, Firewood, The Burden are touching, real, thoughful and to me anything but depressing. The relationship between father and son that Banks explores in many of the short stories I felt hit the mark. Banks short stories at their best make me more aware of myself and where I am from. I'm grateful Banks is doing what he is doing. This collection of short stories are reminders for me of what I left behind as well as what may lie ahead.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ron Franscell, Author of 'The Darkest Night' on June 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Russell Banks isn't a household name in American letters, and what fame he's scratched together as an author has come from powerful novels such as "Affliction" and "Cloudsplitter." But, like Hemingway, Banks is best (and feels most free) when he writes short, and a new compilation might finally give him his due as a short-story writer.
"Angel on the Roof" is a literary album of Banks's greatest hits, 31 examples of what he calls "the best work I have done in the form over the thirty-seven years since I began trying to write." Twenty-two of the stories first appeared in four lesser-known collections between 1975 and 1986; of the nine more recent stories, six have only been published in magazines such as Esquire and newspaper literary supplements. More importantly, Banks has freely revised many of the old stories, so even his most ardent fans can expect to see something new.
His stories are elegantly postmodern, beautiful and striking, full of diverse voices and disquietingly vulgar settings. Some are only a few pages long; others go deeper and longer. But many of his stories, though sometimes suffocatingly bleak, are also capable of poignant humor and broad satire.
Perhaps the renaissance of the short story that finally elevates Banks to his proper place among American writers. He ranks with John Cheever as one of the masters of the contemporary form, if not in name-recognition.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on December 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Some of the stories in Angel on the Roof are clever snapshots and therefore compelling. All all are thoughtful and well written. However, this book failed to engross me like Banks' other works.
As a fan of Banks' novels, this book to me was interesting and useful as an insight into his writing. The reader will find characters and situations that pop up in Banks' longer fiction. Another interesting element is that some of the characters pop up in multiple stories - sometimes as principles and sometimes as background figures. This gives the book an interesting sense of continuity.
However, Banks' prose is much more effective in the form of a novel, in which he has a bit more space to develop the characters. Banks in my opinion is the very opposite of Hemingway, who's short work was lauded but has been criticized for unfocused novels. Banks' novels never ramble, not even the 700+ page novel Cloudsplitter - but his short stories, while interesting, are definitely weaker than his longer works. Don't expect to find any memorable gems here; none of the stories made an impression on me. I'll go to my grave remembering Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" but I've already forgotten almost all of the stories in Angel on the Roof.
Granted, Hemingway is a tough measuring stick, but Banks as one of the finest American authors merits tough comparisons.
Well written but forgettable. However, true Banks fans will find Angel on the Roof worth the read simply for an insight into the author.
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