News & Politics

A Place Between Stations

Skillful” short stories about the African-American experience that “can appeal to anyone.

 Across time and place, what it means to be African-American derives from an array of experiences. Stephanie Allen—who teaches English at the University of Maryland—examines this theme in her collection of short stories.

 The settings range from 19th-century New England to modern-day Florida. They’re narrated in first, third, and even second person. The protagonists are young and old, male and female. Race is always a player.

 In “Souvenir,” black college students Gail and Cille take a road trip to Florida and get lost in an area still mired in Jim Crow beliefs. When a store clerk gives Cille a hard time on a purchase, Gail studies a shelf of “mammy” figurines. Captivated by their existence—“pitch-black people, bug-eyed things with head rags and red polka-dotted aprons and wet grins wide as the Mississippi”—and bitter over her friend’s treatment, she steals one.

 In “Mud Show,” George Mattie has been hired to guide H.C. Hutherford’s American Floating Circus from New York to Connecticut. The manager, Cheffal, wants to push the performers and animals beyond their limits to reach the next town early. Cheffal demands that Mattie find a shortcut through the woods—a path that leads to disaster, with Mattie taking the fall.

 The stories have simple plots and read quickly. Allen deftly manipulates time through flashbacks and builds characters through the skillful use of dialect, point of view, and detailed, sensitive descriptions: “The halo of fine, raisin-brown hair that always pulled loose from her braids floated around her head.”

 While the theme throughout is the African-American experience, A Place Between Stations can appeal to anyone.

Stephanie Allen

University of Missouri Press