cover image Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe

Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe

. Westview Press, $69 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8133-2028-1

The individual stories in this encyclopedic collection are all good, but the aggregate of 70 of them, arranged simply in alphabetical order by author's name, is unwieldy. Rowell, editor of the magazine Callaloo, has excellent taste in literature, but he might have given more of a context than just noting each author's country of origin/residence. Many stories center on disillusion. Tina McElroy Ansa chronicles the disintegration of a marriage, while Trinidad-born Dionne Brand's narrator, who once loved the Dallas Cowboys, learns to hate them when her country is invaded by North American forces. Many of these narrators are sharp, almost neutral observers: John Holman's protagonist listens passively as a man plans to take revenge on his sister; Edward P. Jones's narrator recalls her first day of school, ``long before I learned to be ashamed of my mother.'' In William Melvin Kelley's wonderful story about a Harvard-educated baker who moonlights as a hit man, narrator Calvin Coolidge Johnson notes, ``A few years ago, an Africamerican dressed in clean coveralls and carrying a toolkit could get into any downtown Manhattan building, day or night. Nowadays, it takes more ingenuity to penetrate places.'' Whatever its failings, an examination of the effects of the African diaspora on literature is an intriguing idea, and Ancestral House offers sustaining food for thought on a variety of subjects. (Oct.)