Amina Gautier (author); AT-RISK; The University of Georgia Press (Fiction: Short Stories) $24.95 ISBN: 9780820338880
Byline: Karen Rigby
Winner of the 2010 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, At-Risk confronts the problems of lower-income New Yorkers, from the anxieties of single mothers to the threat of drive-by shootings and early sexuality. Ten stories reveal sons and daughters who are mostly outsiders even in their own environments. With few exceptions, they lack a streetwise exterior, a fact which lends greater vulnerability to their stories. They include a boy genius; a book-loving girl who longs to become a librarian; brothers who eschew confrontation; a girl who is goaded by friends to shout at strangers; and a student attending an all-girl school, among others.
Gautier, whose stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the South and Best African American Fiction, avoids typecasting. The housing projects and surrounding neighborhoods are not the one-dimensional ganglands depicted in movies, and most families presented here exhibit kinship rather than disinterest or cycles of abuse. Drug addiction, abandonment by fathers, and similarly anticipated topics play meaningful yet smaller roles. Gautier instead explores more varied conflicts, including homophobic taunting in "Boogiemen" and a child's shame over her mother's actions in "Afternoon Tea." Tensions exacerbated by these specific circumstances would still be plausible elsewhere; part of what makes...