Neighbors and Other Stories

Grove. Feb. 2024. 272p. ISBN 9780802161314. $27. F
DEBUT With an introduction by Tayari Jones, O. Henry Award winner Oliver is being brought to readers’ attention after decades of obscurity. In the mid-1960s, Oliver, who was just beginning her twenties and a promising writing career, died in a motorcycle crash. This first full story collection reveals her to be an adventurous writer who deftly captured the pervasive daily pressures of living while Black in the midst of white-dominant society. Readers will feel the constant pressures and lack of room to navigate freely in a racist world; seemingly simple scenarios—opening a door, walking down a road, going to school—are fraught with potential for physical violence or emotional violation. The stories read like tightly wrought suspense with an edge toward horror, and Oliver uses wide-ranging forms to create riveting effects. For example, in “Frozen Voices,” she uses repeating refrains and textual punches to tell the fractured story of a tragic love triangle, creating a disorientation and anxiety that underscore the theme of entangled relationships further complicated by outside forces.
VERDICT Oliver uses subtlety and nuance like a knife. These stories reveal a writer who was willing to explore and stretch, telling honest, bared-open stories of her time and now of ours.
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