Many years ago, when I was writing a movie review column, an older woman came up to me at a cocktail party and said, "Dr. Noble, my husband and I read your reviews faithfully. We find them very useful. If you like a movie, we don't go." Perhaps this is the case here. I don't hold with ghosts and Ouija boards, but if my description of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming sounds good, by all means, buy it and take it to the beach.
James Noles is a West Point graduate and a Birmingham attorney who has created a second career for himself, not as a novelist in the now overcrowded tradition of John Grisham, but as an independent historian.
Frye Gaillard, now writer-in residence at the University of South Alabama, has earned a place on the top shelf of interpreters of the recent South. This is the shelf occupied by popular writers such as Hal Crowther and Roy Blount Jr. and academic scholars such as Wayne Flynt.
This novel may seem at first to be genre fiction, but it is in fact literary fiction, the best sort. Richmond explores the devastating effects of grief and survivor guilt. She demonstrates how little, really, we know about even the people closest to us.
The rednecks in this volume are sweaty and petty and frightening--not attractive or romantic, nor salt of the earth types, at all. And they seem to favor the Dodge Ram truck, for what that's worth.
By Don Noble
Philip Shirley, native Alabamian, has been successful in the advertising and public relations business for many years, but, almost as if he were a lawyer, has had an irrepressible desire to write fiction. Oh Don't You Cry for Me is Shirley's first collection, and it is a perfectly respectable debut.
Many of these pieces are ironic, somewhat scornful, but many are not. Capote has sympathetic words for Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and absolute encomia for Isak Dinesen and Capote's favorite American author, Willa Cather.
These memoirs are sociology, anthropology, like Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa, or travel narratives of distant and exotic places. Except that, of course, the time is now, the place is here, and the mysterious creatures speaking and under discussion are American women, friendly and intelligent and utterly un-understood by the mass of American males.
The other mainly Alabama essay is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon Winx," which is just that?a meditation not on the nearly defunct Moon Winx Lodge, but on the neon sign in front of the Moon Winx Lodge, which was supposed to be in service to the lodge but has now surpassed it.
The day in which a story collection such as Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger could create a major stir is, alas, long gone. Maybe that's too bad. These are very clever and satisfying stories. They deserve some readers.
By Don Noble
After finishing her MFA in fiction writing here at the University of Alabama, Jennifer Davis went on to win the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award with her collection Her Kind of Want, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2002.
This honest and clearly written memoir does begin in misery. In 1973, Kim Sun?e, at the age of three, is abandoned by her mother on a bench in a South Korean marketplace with "a tiny fistful of food" which was reduced to the crumbs of the title.
For years, Johnson, who was raised in Montgomery and studied journalism at Auburn, wrote four columns a week for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Unhappy with Atlanta traffic and that grueling pace, Johnson left the AJC in 2001. This has given her more time to write in a thoughtful, more leisurely way, and the result is Poor Man's Provence.
This is a remarkable first novel, impressive and sophisticated. The subject matter presents a big temptation to be hyperbolic, melodramatic, but Roy's voice is calm, reasoned. The story is told mainly in simple declarative sentences and is all the more powerful for it.
And in terms of empathy, maybe I am not the best reviewer for this volume. Bragg's people are, emphatically, not my people. But then again, maybe I am the right one to review this volume, because Bragg makes these people come alive for me, and in fact through some of the most beautiful writing you will find anywhere, makes me care about them, feel for them as individuals.
In Wicked City, he fictionalizes actual events in the Phenix City of 1954, a place so awful, Atkins writes, "no author could ever exaggerate the sin, sleaze, and moral decay of Phenix City, Alabama, in the fifties or the courage of the people who stood up to fight it."
By Don Noble
Ace Atkins' career has tacked this way and that over the years, but has never strayed very far from crime, especially murder.