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This second volume of Dubus's collected short fiction finds the emphasis moving from adultery to relationships between parents and their children. As Richard Russo explains in his excellent introduction, the errant Dubus was more or less neglectful of his own brood. His stories about estranged dads, however, have a sincere tenderness missing in his personal life. And they are wondrous to read. The title story is a beautiful, comic snapshot of a divorced dad digesting his kids' life over custodial weekends. The closing "A Father's Story" is, as Russo says, simply one of the best American short stories, its incantatory, remorseless prose carving a deep emotional scar in the reader. Also included is "killings," a tale of vengeance that became the basis for the 2001 Oscar-nominated film In the Bedroom. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
What would you do if your teenage self turned up on your adult doorstep? That's the dilemma explored by Maurel in this ravishing graphic novel, which pulses with oranges and maroons and beautifully fluid figures. The 15-year-old Luisa is alarmed to find herself deposited by her local bus in the Paris of today, and even more confused when she meets the 31-year-old Luisa. The older Luisa lives a life of stifled compromise that's light years away from her youth, but maybe it's not too late to turn things around. Alternating between laughter and tears, this unforgettable story proves it's never too late to come of age. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Having won the National Book Award for his debut novel, Morte d'Urban, Powers then spent the next 25 years on his follow-up. (The time wasn't entirely spent writing. as his daughter explains in her introduction, he also did a lot of leaf-raking.) Still, it's rare that such a hefty labor results in a book that is so light and delicate. It's even rarer to write a light and delicate book about a man's spiritual redemption. and for it to be as hilarious as it is might just qualify as a full-blown miracle. Powers writes, as he did in almost all of his fiction, about a priest. As a young man, Joe Hackett aspires to be a saint. Somewhere between the seminary and the pulpit, however, he has traded in his hair shirt for a fully stocked liquor cabinet. As the twentieth century enters the dark days of the Vietnam War, the increasing distracted padre is tested by his parishioners, a shaggy folk-singing curate and the Church itself, which is determined to tithe its flock until their pips squeak. Can a man emerge from such trials with his dignity and faith intact? Hackett's progress is a comic tour de force that deserves to rank alongside Roth's Portnoy or Updike's Rabbit. Simply fantastic. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
It feels like Marjorie is barely holding everything together at the family laundromat. Her widowed father has pretty much checked out, there's a weird yoga entrepreneur looking to repossess the property, and the place might be haunted. By a genuine ghost. In a sheet with eye-holes. Thummler's book is gorgeous to behold: the finely-observed, colorful illustrations are as inviting as a giant bowl of Fruit Loops. It's an appropriate compliment to her whimsical, touching story, which navigates grief while still putting a huge smile on the reader's face. It's like a clean clothes smell for your heart. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Tillie Walden didn't grow up wanting to be a competitive figure skater, but its reassuring routines are what's keeping her young self together until she figures out what else life has to offer. The Ignatz-Award-winning cartoonist has now turned her coming of age into one of the best graphic memoirs in years. Told in purple-hued imagery that takes in both athletic grace and the unforgiving florescence lights of the skating rink, Walden recounts the petty jealousies and occasional triumphs that kept her involved in the sport, even as she felt herself pulling away. Those expecting a straightforward "Cutting Edge"-style saga of triumph on ice might be confounded. Those looking for a real story suffused with hope and other pleasures should save a spot on the podium for "Spinning." ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley