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Bookmarks Issue: 
50-Jan-Feb-2011
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A-Before You SuffocateDanielle Evans burst on the short-fiction scene in 2007 as a talented young voice with the publication of her story "Virgins" in The Paris Review. Three years later, Evans's book-length debut has arrived, collecting the author's most heralded story and seven others. Evans teaches fiction at American University.

The Story: These are tales of everyday life--whether from the suburbs, the inner city, or the Ivy League--that reflect the realities and articulate the dreams of young black women in America. In "Virgins," two teenage girls teeter between innocence and adulthood. In "Snakes," a young girl spends the summer with her wealthy white grandmother. From "Harvest," a commentary on women's bodies and reproduction, to "Robert E. Lee Is Dead," which limns lingering racism in the "new New South," to "Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go," the poignant story of an Iraqi veteran who babysits his ex-girlfriend's five-year-old daughter, Evans observes her world with compassion and uncommon understanding.
Riverhead. 232 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594487699

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether she's observing people who work at Ruby Tuesday or Harvard students, Evans is a startlingly good sociocultural mimic. ... One wonders where she will go next." Danielle Dreilinger

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Danielle Evans' debut story collection examines the lives of young black people in contemporary America and does so with a ringing authenticity in eight moving, funny and insightful tales. ... Many of the characters in Evans' stories must decide whether to save themselves at the expense of someone they are close to, and Evans expertly conveys the fallout that results from people making a choice to advance in the world by leaving where they came from." Jenny Shank

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Danielle Evans's whip-smart first story collection charts the liminal years between childhood and the condition dubiously known as being a grown-up. Told from a close distance, these stories lack the rich patina of hindsight, their pleasures coming instead from an immediacy and an engaging voice." Lydia Peelle

Onion AV Club 4 of 5 Stars
"Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is a remarkable short-story collection in a good year for short-story collections. ... Evans has a few of the problems typical of young short-story writers, but for the most part, this is a collection of perfectly conceived little tales that look at underexposed corners of American life." Todd VanDerWerff

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Evans's greatest talent is her ability to create poignant moments of crisis in the lives of transient people who can't seem to connect with those they love. ... Again and again, without any histrionics, but with a clear appreciation for the natural drama of our mundane lives, Evans frames such questions in a way that will resonate with any thoughtful reader." Ron Charles

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This striking debut collection ... offers rich slices of African-American life. ... Evans' book ... carries a strong scent of freshness and promise." Thom Geier

Critical Summary

The arrival in publishing of Danielle Evans, a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop who is still in her 20s, has been anticipated with the same enthusiasm that sports phenoms are welcomed into the majors. And with good reason. The author's voice, "brave the way you are when you don't know what you have to lose" (NY Times Book Review), never lets her laser focus stray from the challenges of growing up in the 21st century--even if she tends, occasionally, to lead the reader instead of relying on her obvious gift for language. Her characters are strong, vulnerable, wise, naïve, brash--and always human. A writer to keep an eye on, Evans has a novel in the works.