A review of

Home Remedies

by Angela Pneuman

Central question: How do Kentucky Christians grow up?
Format: 230 pp., paperback; Size: 5-5/16" x 8"; Price: $14.00; Publisher: Harcourt; Editor: Tina Pohlman; Book design: Linda Lockowitz; Typeface: Perpetua; Author’s first writing gig: editing sewage treatment plant reports for Indiana; Author’s second writing gig: Stanford Stegner writing fellow; Author collects: dishes from the 1930s; Representative passage: “The Reverend Yancey Boyd had eyes so light they almost weren’t blue at all, and wavy hair close to his head, and when he talked he sounded wise. Aunt Char said that Joyce married him because he looked like Paul Newman, and because he was sincere, though she said it was no excuse.”

Apparently the word linked has become profane to much of the story-writing community—and sadly thus to the story-reading community as well. It became so, however, only after the word began to be used in a new way. It had been used as an adjective full of nuance representing, roughly, the resonance that made a collection a book, and not just some stories someone wrote. The problem is that publishers and writers seem to have redefined linked in a way that smacks of a rigid formula—of a pigeon’s hole. It now specifically embodies the following qualities: recurring characters, localized events, parallel conflicts, and/or a universal theme or situation. Take a look at the bookstore. Most new collections of short fiction will have at least one of these qualities, sometimes more. You won’t have to look long; they will be proudly advertised in book-jacket copy and in catchy blurbs. That’s marketing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it means more books are sold and read. What is problematic is when a book reads as if written with a jacket-flap hook in mind.

When I picked up Angela Pneuman’s Home Remedies, I had the sinking feeling that hers was this kind of book. Her hook, it seemed, was to shine a light into the darker corners of Kentucky, places peopled by conservative Christians. I mentally checked localized events and universal themes off my list. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. Four of these eight stories feel like they are part of a truly vibrant collection. The characters are bigger than the pages they inhabit, not because the stories themselves are small, but because the characters register a humor and terror that are so large.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Thom Blaylock

Thom Blaylock is an advising editor for Columbia: a Journal of Literature and Art and is the assistant editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. He lives in New York.

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