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Reviews of Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver

Neighbors and Other Stories

by Diane Oliver

Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver X
Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver
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  • Published:
    Feb 2024, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Ahima
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About this Book

Book Summary

A bold and haunting debut story collection that follows various characters as they navigate the day-to-day perils of Jim Crow racism from Diane Oliver, a missing figure in the canon of twentieth-century African American literature, with an introduction by Tayari Jones

A remarkable talent far ahead of her time, Diane Oliver died in 1966 at the age of 22, leaving behind these crisply told and often chilling tales that explore race and racism in 1950s and 60s America. In this first and only collection by a masterful storyteller finally taking her rightful place in the canon, Oliver's insightful stories reverberate into the present day.

There's the nightmarish "The Closet on the Top Floor" in which Winifred, the first Black student at her newly integrated college, starts to physically disappear; "Mint Juleps not Served Here" where a couple living deep in a forest with their son go to bloody lengths to protect him; "Spiders Cry without Tears," in which a couple, Meg and Walt, are confronted by prejudices and strains of interracial and extramarital love; and the high tension titular story that follows a nervous older sister the night before her little brother is set to desegregate his school.

These are incisive and intimate portraits of African American families in everyday moments of anxiety and crisis that look at how they use agency to navigate their predicaments. As much a social and historical document as it is a taut, engrossing collection, Neighbors is an exceptional literary feat from a crucial once-lost figure of letters.

Excerpt
Neighbors and Other Stories

The bus turning the corner of Patterson and Talford Avenue was dull this time of evening. Of the four passengers standing in the rear, she did not recognize any of her friends. Most of the people tucked neatly in the double seats were women, maids and cooks on their way from work or secretaries who had worked late and were riding from the office building at the mill. The cotton mill was out from town, near the house where she worked. She noticed that a few men were riding too. They were obviously just working men, except for one gentleman dressed very neatly in a dark gray suit and carrying what she imagined was a push-button umbrella.

He looked to her as though he usually drove a car to work. She immediately decided that the car probably wouldn't start this morning so he had to catch the bus to and from work. She was standing in the rear of the bus, peering at the passengers, her arms barely reaching the overhead railing, trying not to wobble with ...

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Reviews

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Diane Oliver's Neighbors and Other Stories challenged my own understanding of America, during and after de facto segregation. Each short story is an observation of individual lives. Oliver wrote many of these stories in her early 20s, during the early-to-mid '60s, and this posthumous collection brings a youthful, introspective twist to our comprehension of the time. It is a unique peek into the past, and, in many ways, a soothsaying of the future we're living in...continued

Full Review Members Only (676 words)

(Reviewed by Lisa Ahima).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
Oliver's marvelous, posthumously published short story collection illustrates life in the Jim Crow South. These 14 vivid, transportive tales, some never before published, portray deeply layered characters in scenes that convey the heart-rending, life-threatening reality of segregated America ... A necessary addition to the American canon and every library collection.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A remarkable collection of Jim Crow–era stories from a major talent ... Oliver's published and unpublished work testifies both to her immense raw talent as a young writer and to the major figure she might have become if she'd had the chance to develop. Her stories deal with the everyday lives of Black families of all classes as they contend with issues such as segregation, poverty, and prejudice and their own hopes for the future ... With a crystalline clarity and finely attuned ear, Oliver depicts her subjects with elegance and profound understanding.

Library Journal (starred review)
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 ... The stories read like tightly wrought suspense with an edge toward horror, and Oliver uses wide-ranging forms to create riveting effects ... 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.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Extraordinary ... The author's heartfelt and resplendent writing is loaded with an earthy complexity reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston—indeed, novelist Tayari Jones names Oliver along with Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Ann Petry as "literary foremothers" in her introduction. Oliver's brilliant stories belong in the American canon.

Author Blurb Dantiel W. Moniz, author of Milk Blood Heat
Direct and unromantic, what a glory of education Oliver gives us in craft, in the miraculous depiction of ordinary life, of enduring in love, family, and faith inside an insidious and voracious system, each sentence constructed to pass a reader deeper into the weaved world, rather than out of it. Each narrative resounds full-bodied and striking, bent on rendering the truths of the moment precisely. Oliver is indisputably a master. What woe this talent be stripped from us so early; what blessing this gift of stories remains.

Author Blurb Dawnie Walton, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Diane Oliver wrote with audacity, wit, and a wisdom beyond her years, fearlessly switching the lens to take in her world and the intimate lives of women and girls passing through it. I want to press a copy of Neighbors into the hands of every Black writer and reader I know, so that we might marvel together at these gifts she left us.

Author Blurb Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
In Neighbors and Other Stories, the late Diane Oliver writes of Civil Rights-era domestic life, racial justice, and personal intimacies with such beautiful self-possession. Full of keen observations, crisp prose, and astute social commentary, this is a collection overflowing with complexities and vigor, from a brilliant talent we lost much too soon.

Author Blurb Jamel Brinkley, author of Witness
The publication of Diane Oliver's Neighbors and Other Stories is an important event in African American and American letters, a restoration of an extraordinarily gifted young writer's work to our ongoing literary conversation. The solidity of the prose and the intimately drawn people in these stories results in an eeriness and a forcefulness that cannot be denied. This robust collection is an eloquent and inventive response to the hardships and dilemmas caused by the nightmare of American racism.

Reader Reviews

Ekeocha Ruth

My neighbors and other stories
Title: "My Neighbors and Other Stories" by Diane Oliver - Book Review "My Neighbors and Other Stories" by Diane Oliver is a captivating collection of short stories that delves into the intricacies of human relationships and the mysteries of ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Books of Stories Centering Black American Life

Diane Oliver's Neighbors and Other Stories is a collection delving deep into the corners of Black American life in the 1950s and '60s that were not and are still not usually part of the public conversation. Historical and academic writing that discusses the situations of marginalized people often does not touch on the intricacies of their daily lives, but fiction offers that opportunity. Here are some books of stories that portray Black Americans in a way that moves away from academic discussions of race and places readers inside the everyday experiences of people and communities.

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