The Angel on the Roof
After nine critically acclaimed novels, Russell Banks has firmly established himself as one of the great American novelists. But throughout his career Banks has also been a master of the short form, publishing four story collections, winning O. Henry and Best American Short Story Awards and other prizes, and contributing stories to such publications as Esquire, New American Review, Antaeus, Mississippi Review, and Partisian Review. Now, with The Angel on the Roof, Banks offers readers an astonighsing collection of thirty years of his short fiction. As is characteristic of all Banks's works, these stories resonate with irony and compassion, honsty and insight, extending into the vast territory of the heart and world, from working-class New England to Florida and the Caribbean and Africa. Along with nine new stories that are among the finest fiction he has ever written, Banks has selected the best pieces from his previous collections and revised them especially for this volume. Broad in scope and rich in imagination, The Angel on the Roof is a true representation of the breadth of Russell Bank's work and affirms his place on one of the masters of American storytelling.
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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 AppeloFrom the Back Cover:
"Banks has the kind of God-given talent that lets him not so much invent characters as inhabit the heads of people who already exist.-- The writing is--as immediate as [the] morning headlines." --The Montreal Gazette
"As often as Banks gives them (his characters) dignity, he also dishes out pain. The Angel on the Roof doesn't offer balm, just honesty. These hard truths are what make the book shine." - Calgary Herald
"...yet Banks is also a compassionate writer, illuminating even the most despicable characters with flashes of sorrowful understanding."
- The National Post
"These stories perch on the rim of memory, that shadowy realm that makes Banks' novels like Rule of the Bone, so powerful--we [are] blessed by Banks' prodigious talent and insight." - Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 11 2000-06-28
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