cover image Talk Stories

Talk Stories

Jamaica Kincaid. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27239-5

Fans of the New Yorker's ""Talk of the Town"" column will rejoice with the publication of Kincaid's new book, a collection of 77 short pieces she wrote at the magazine between 1978 and 1983, when it was under the stewardship of William Shawn. Preceded by an adoring foreword by former colleague Ian Frazier, the book opens with Kincaid's modest description of her evolution into a star writer, the realization of a dream she held as a young girl on the West Indian island of Antigua. Following a chance meeting with New Yorker writer George Trow, Kincaid was hired to contribute to the ""Talk of the Town,"" which she quickly made her own with a spare, highly innovative narrative style. Approaching her assignments as ""little stories in themselves,"" Kincaid experimented with the form and substance of each piece. From her richly detailed account of New York City's West Indian-American Day carnival to a wry tale about a late-night party at the fashionable eatery Mr. Chow's, her exceptional ability to record events and conversations never fails her. Shawn's ""Talk of the Town"" had many restrictions; Frazier recalls that writers couldn't use curse words or write about sex or about the journalistic topic of the week. Within these constraints, Kincaid moves through a wide variety of subjects: the slick soul of R&B pros Archie Bell and the Drells, the First International Soap Opera Exposition, Gloria Vanderbilt's regal greetings at a book signing, the manic wit of Richard Pryor, a mock expense account for a luncheon for Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife. This collection is more than a chart of Kincaid's maturation into an accomplished writer; it's an astounding display of early literary skill and youthful daring. (Feb.)