cover image Sleepovers


Ashleigh Bryant Phillips. Hub City, $16.95 trade paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-938235-66-5

In Phillips’s blunt, life-affirming debut collection, characters in rural, hardscrabble North Carolina grapple for hope while being sustained by a soundtrack of Today’s Country Hits on FM radio and a diet of Duck Thru hot dogs. In “Shania,” the unnamed seven-year-old protagonist is awed by her friend, named after the country music star, and the girls are united in their desire to become blood sisters. Their friendship is cut short after domestic violence erupts in Shania’s decrepit house. “The Locket” is about the unlikely bond between Shirley, a 60-year-old pool custodian with a simple mind who often relfects on her painful childhood, and Krystal, a teenage babysitter with an impressive dive. Before meeting Krystal, Shirley’s sole companion is the spirit of her long-dead horse, Norma. After Krystal coaxes Shirley into lending her a prized locket, the consequences are devastating. The title story shifts between describing fourth-grade Nicki and her friends’ sleepovers and the tribulations of Nicki’s father. After he loses his leg in an accident, the community raises money for an artificial leg, but it doesn’t quite fit. Phillips demonstrates an impressive ease at depicting transition, trauma, and loss, brilliantly evoking a close-knit world held together by the strength of friendship. This collection stands out in the field of current Southern fiction. (June)