Friday, February 23, 2018
Books

Review: Characters pass the test in Ellen Gilchrist's 'Acts of God'

The forces at work in Acts of God, Ellen Gilchrist's latest story collection — her first in eight years — are not trifles. Nature. Time. Plain bad luck. And yet her characters remain undaunted. These flinty, practical, God-fearing Southern folk do not hold with complaining.

"Life's harder than we know it might be when we're young," acknowledges the widowed Arkansas first responder in the National Guard in Collateral. She must leave her teaching job and son to travel to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And yet, faced with the heat and mosquitoes and desperation, she tells herself, "Well, hell, don't start thinking like a prima donna. This is the job and you are going to do it."

Author of 22 other books, including the National Book Award-winning story collection Victory Over Japan, Gilchrist excels at telling wonderfully unsentimental, character-driven narratives about the basics. We're born. We live. We die. Along the way, we're tested, but more often than not we're up to the task.

The Methodist youth group teens in Miracle in Adkins, Arkansas, who set out to help victims of a killer tornado, find their lives enriched by their experience. What did it feel like? "Like a miracle or like if you hit a ball out of the field in the last inning of a championship game," one boy says. "It felt like I'd never known what to think before and all of a sudden I knew exactly what to think. ... I don't want to talk about it too much. I don't want to lose it all in words."

Different sorts of natural disaster loom, too. An elderly couple inadvertently left alone sneaks off for a wild ride in Acts of God. In Jumping Off Bridges Into Clean Water, a husband with polio secretly considers taking his life, but his no-nonsense, bossy, beloved wife derails him.

The best story of the bunch is the deceptively simple Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, in which three middle-aged women find themselves stuck in Heathrow Airport. A terrorist threat has shut down London and delayed their Italian vacation, but as the women talk and wait out the long day, they realize it has been enriching in its own way.

Such moments flower in Gilchrist's hands: Us at our best in the worst of times. "(S)he thought maybe she had lived her whole life to get to be the person that pulled that little girl up into the cockpit and undid her straps and handed her a package of Ritz Crackers with peanut butter," thinks the responder of her work in Katrina's aftermath. And the fearless Gilchrist ends the story with a revelation so stinging and sweet it takes your breath away. Which is, of course, the point: enjoying the parts that make you grin at the joy of it all.

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Author Allison Winn Scotch gives a nod to Steven King

Author Allison Winn Scotch gives a nod to Steven King

NightstandAllison Winn ScotchScotch, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of several novels. Her newest, Between Me and You, set in Los Angeles, is the story of Ben and Tatum, a couple whose marriage is unraveling, due perhaps ...
Published: 02/23/18

Events: Imbolo Mbue to discuss, sign Oprah pick ‘Behold the Dreamers’ at Largo library

Book TalkBlake High School student and author Sarah Frank (One Chance) will appear at a book launch for her novel for young readers at 4 p.m. Feb. 25 at Inkwood Books, 1809 N Tampa St., Tampa.Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker (Beyond the Sunshin...
Published: 02/22/18
Review: John Dufresne gives an entertaining short course in ‘Flash! Writing the Very Short Story’

Review: John Dufresne gives an entertaining short course in ‘Flash! Writing the Very Short Story’

Don’t tell John Dufresne you don’t have time to read.In fact, don’t tell him you don’t have time to write. Instead, spend a little time with his new book, Flash! Writing the Very Short Story. You’ll find a treasure trove of stories you can read in th...
Published: 02/22/18
Amy Hill Hearth’s ‘Streetcar to Justice’ brings back a forgotten story of black history

Amy Hill Hearth’s ‘Streetcar to Justice’ brings back a forgotten story of black history

During Black History Month, many students learn about Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger — and rode into history.A century before that, another black woman mad...
Published: 02/20/18
Notable: Five new books for young readers for Black History Month

Notable: Five new books for young readers for Black History Month

NotableBlack History MonthHere are five more newly published books for young readers, for Black History Month or any time.Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin (Scholastic Press, ages 12 and up) by James L. Swanson, w...
Published: 02/20/18
‘Hello, Universe’ and ‘Wolf in the Snow’ top American Library Association awards for books for young readers

‘Hello, Universe’ and ‘Wolf in the Snow’ top American Library Association awards for books for young readers

The American Library Association announced its 2018 Youth Media Award winners Monday during its midwinter meeting in Denver.The annual awards honor books, video and audio for children and young adults and are highly regarded guides for booksellers, t...
Published: 02/16/18
Review: Paul Goldberg’s ‘The Chateau’ sets sharp political satire in a Florida condo

Review: Paul Goldberg’s ‘The Chateau’ sets sharp political satire in a Florida condo

The election is fraught with wild allegations and vicious character assassination, accusations of corruption and kickbacks, misspelled messages and outrageous debates — and of course the Russians have their hands all over it.The 2016 presidential rac...
Published: 02/16/18

Events: Dr. Steven Masley to discuss ‘Better Brain Solution’ in Tampa

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Published: 02/15/18
Lauren Doyle Owens’ ‘Other Side of Everything’ a suspenseful look at life and death in suburbia

Lauren Doyle Owens’ ‘Other Side of Everything’ a suspenseful look at life and death in suburbia

Adel Minor dies alone, in her three-bedroom ranch house in a South Florida suburb. It’s the fire people notice first, a column of smoke rising amid the 1960s ranch houses of Seven Springs, but once it’s put out the firefighters find Adel, a widow in ...
Published: 02/14/18
Jeremy McCarter, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s co-author, tells us what he’s reading

Jeremy McCarter, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s co-author, tells us what he’s reading

NightstandJeremy McCarterMcCarter, 41, is the co-author with Lin-Manuel Miranda of the book Hamilton: The Revolution. It was McCarter who introduced Miranda to Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater in New York, and that introducti...
Published: 02/14/18