Critics have compared Tims Creek to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and it’s true that Kenan’s grasp of his lightly fictionalized home’s history, geography, and culture was as keen as Faulkner’s ... You might argue that Kenan’s treatment of Tims Creek’s white characters is more thoughtful and complex than Faulkner’s treatment of his Black characters ... The 10 stories in the new collection are as rich and provocative and funny as the ones that came before; I particularly liked a tall tale about a Tims Creek plumber who, on a trip to New York with his wife, somehow ends up in Billy Idol’s entourage. Horrible Percy Terrell returns, in a story that explores with a keen eye and true generosity a white man beginning to confront the lies and thievery of his family’s past.
Kenan’s work not only establishes a rich fictional landscape that gives life to a vibrant cast of characters—many descendants of freed slaves who settled the area—but also colorful language ... If I Had Two Wings cements Kenan’s reputation as one of America’s finest writers, and the language of the traditional hymn from which the title is taken provides an appropriate epitaph for a writer taken from us too soon[.]
As with Gloria Naylor’s Brewster Place and Edward P. Jones’ Washington D.C., Kenan’s fictions are linked, their Black communities complex and vibrant. More than one story features a character named Randall Kenan, and these have a narrative intensity and interiority like Bryan Washington’s Lot, coupled with the declarative and insistent tone of Celie’s later letters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. These are linked stories about Black and queer identity rooted in universal themes: memory and regret, release and sorrow, insistence and independence ... Use of repetition, chorus-like at the sentence-level, suggests that the author builds his work aloud like church leaders practice their sermons ... These stories are accomplished and polished. The use of sensory detail is astute, pulling readers into vibrant scenes ranging from megacity streets to an assisted-living home, from a flooded basement to an eighteenth-century barn’s walls. Kenan also successfully strikes a balance between fancy and finesse, arranging stories so that characters connect naturally and easily, which builds credibility and secures readers’ engagement. But what makes this collection remarkable is its wings ... Although some people in Tims Creek can fly (identifying them would spoil the wonder), in this collection the sense of being surrounded by winged creatures and the potential for transformation is more significant than any single character’s capacity.