Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1997.
Here are voices unlike any you have heard before. Carolyn Ferrell’s debut collection of stories features young people, mostly girls, on the verge of being erased from society but determined to endure. They are black or biracial, poor or from broken families, almost-adults navigating a treacherous world. Yet their voices—incandescently street-smart—speak of passion, of connection, of hope wherever they can find it.
Ferrell validates these characters’ lives with penetrating sympathy and spirit. Her stories uncover the particular heartache of the young that comes from being different. In “Miracle Answer,” the black daughter of a white mother views her double loyalties with both sass and sorrow. “Country of the Spread Out God” sets a tale of unrequited love in the unlikely midst of family court. The narrator of “Proper Library”—featured in The Best American Short Stories—is a sensitive boy named Lorrie who finds that being gay oddly protects him from the macho culture of high school. In the brilliant title story, a young woman traces backward through her life, revealing the emotional sea change that followed a positive test for HIV.
A little girl lives with her family in a picturesque seaside community near San Francisco. An American neighborhood like any other, sheltered in the seeming tranquillity of the 1950s. Except it exists on the island of Alcatraz, the Rock, where a looming cellhouse imprisons the most vicious and irredeemable of America’s criminals. Olivia grows up here and watches as her family slowly falls apart, trapped in its own prison rules and silences. She watches the disintegration of her mother, a brilliant woman isolated in a role that closes in on her as inexorably as the metallic crash of any cell door. Olivia can only watch, and retreat into herself, for she’s only a little girl; there’s no escape for her from the island she calls home.
An auspicious debut novel by a young writer who will remind readers of Anne Lamott and Anne Tyler
Crime in the Neighborhood centers on a headline event— the molestation and murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a Washington, D.C., suburb. At the time of the murder, 1973, Marsha was nine years old and as an adult she still remembers that summer as a time when murder and her own family’s upheaval were intertwined. Everyone, it seemed to Marsha at the time, was committing crimes. Her father deserted his family to take up with her mother’s younger sister. Her teenage brother and sister were smoking and shoplifting, and her mother was “flirting” with Mr. Green, the new next-door neighbor. Even the president of the United States seemed to be a crook. But it is Marsha’s own suspicions about who committed this crime that has the town up in arms and reveals what happens when fear runs wild.
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers’ demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale… Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family—their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts). When their English cousin, Sophie Mol, and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive on a Christmas visit, Esthappen and Rahel learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river “graygreen. With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it.”
In a small town among the citrus groves in the Santa Bernita Valley, so the locals claim, nothing ever goes according to plan. “It’s a great place to live, they say, if you like surprises: it’s just like life, only different.”
Certainly a number of Rito’s inhabitants—fewer than a hundred in all—are surprised to be living here. Red Ray, for instance, a wildly alcoholic lawyer who bought a dilapidated Victorian mansion in an attempt to rehabilitate his marriage and regain the affections of his wife and young son. After destroying those hopes with a spectacular final binge, Red established a drunk farm, Round Rock, on the ruins. There, one day at a time, he follows his new, unexpected calling.
Many months after her husband decamped (almost immediately) for Los Angeles, Libby Daw still lives alone in their trailer, and finds herself even more rooted to the valley she dreams of escaping. …[more]