We Are Taking Only What We Need

Stephanie Powell Watts. BkMk (SPD, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (222p) ISBN 978-1-886157-79-8
In a strong debut, Watts chronicles in 11 stories the lives of black North Carolinians who come from or lived near the “dark houses out on tangled dirt roads on the fringes of the county.” Bright and witty 18-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Stephanie (Watts was formerly a Jehovah’s Witness minister) preaches door-to-door in the Pushcart Prize–winning “Unassigned Territory” and contemplates whether “To serve Jehovah during my youth (which, by the way, is the surprising twist ending to our magazine, Making the Most of Your Youth) or to go to college.” The choices aren’t so stark for Shelia, who in “Black Power” navigates widening gulfs between herself and her business-student fiancé, Polo, and Wendy, another black woman marooned with her as a customer support operator in the National Kennel Club cubicles. A real emotional connection comes in a surprising form when she gets a call from a drug dealer who needs papers for his dachshund. In Watts’s South, people are trapped, by relationships, jobs, and flaws in their character, which can lead to a trap of a different sort: incarceration. And not everyone (nor everything) makes it out alive. As the bereft narrator of the title story declares, the kind of love found in the Carolina hills—and in these stories—“demands tribute.” (Nov. 30)
Reviewed on: 09/26/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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