Shannon Sanders. Graywolf, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-1-64445-251-6
Sanders excels in this masterly debut collection about a Black extended family and their triumphs, problems, and secrets. In “The Good, Good Men,” brothers Miles and Theo MacHale meet in Washington, D.C., on a mission to drive away their mother Lela’s latest freeloading boyfriend. Elsewhere and often, Sanders retells an event from one story in another, filling in blind spots and offering different versions. “Bird of Paradise” and “La Belle Hottentote” each delve into Lela’s oldest sister Cassandra’s complex relationships with Lela’s twin daughters, Mariolive and Caprice, each of whom she’s looked out for since they were born, Lela’s jazz-musician husband having left her when she was pregnant with them. In the first entry, Cassandra celebrates her appointment as a D.C.–area college provost at a party, where she shrugs off passive-aggressive comments from the older white men who backed her competitor. The second tells the story from the twins’ points of view along with that of two of Cassandra’s other nieces, all of whom attend the party as Cassandra’s guests. There, one of the cousins hooks up with the son of Cassandra’s boss and the others debate family lore about how their grandmother raised the money to open an Atlantic City jazz club back in the 1970s. Sanders takes pleasure in roasting her characters, such as by having finance bro Theo speak like a character on Succession: “I need to maximize face time... to kick off some new stuff I’m doing in the coding space.” She also exhibits great care and love for them, describing their slights, heartaches, and misbehavior with exquisite emotional acuity. This is a winner. (Oct.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the last name of the characters Miles and Theo MacHale and misidentified the location of another character’s college.
Reviewed on: 08/08/2023