Rattlebone

Maxine Clair, Author
Maxine Clair, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $19 (213p) ISBN 978-0-374-24716-4
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-14-024825-8
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4176-3640-2
Prebound-Other - 213 pages - 978-0-606-30004-9
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Clair's debut short-story collection, 11 interlocked tales set in an African American outskirt of Kansas City, Kans., in the 1950s, launches her toward the front ranks of contemporary fiction. Of the several narrative voices, both first- and third-person, that tell of life in Rattlebone, Irene ``Reenie'' Wilson's occupies the passionate center, with well over half the stories related in her words, which evolve from a convincing childspeak vernacular to an engrossingly poetic prose that follows her coming-of-age amid the breakings and reshapings of her family and community, as well as of the unknown world around her. The opening story details the eight-year-old Reenie's experiences stemming from the first day of the school year. Awed by the new teacher, October Brown, and by local lore about the white mark (``a Devil's kiss'') on October's face, Reenie's fear turns to adoration and then to hate as she realizes the destruction that the woman has wrought upon the Wilson family. From the girl's suspicions about the spiritual ambitions of an itinerant white nun through various friendships and alliances, the accidental death of her first crush, her own near-death experience and, finally, her high school graduation, Reenie's lofty childhood motto, ``I am in this world, but not of it,'' aptly describes the inspired insight and strength that she comes to wield. Interspersed among Reenie's chronicle are equally intense stories about her father, James; rooming-house owners Thomas and Lydia Pemberton; Irene's mother, Pearlean; and the growing up of Irene's neighbor, playmate and competitor, Wanda. These and Reenie's own tales add up to an utterly addictive collection by a writer to watch. (June)
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