A posthumous 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.
Such luminous simplicity is deceptive; these stories detail basic routines of getting through difficult days, but then often deliver a massive wallop ... Jet magazine was one of the few periodicals to say goodbye to Diane Oliver with an obituary. Thanks to this collection, The New York Times now belatedly bids a full-throated hello.
Oliver’s subject is the black female experience in 1960s America, in the period when racial segregation was illegal but prejudices remained ingrained – but the tales succeed for their literary qualities, not their subject matter ... The previously unpublished stories are of varying quality. 'No Brown Sugar in Anybody’s Milk' is one of the best overall, with an unexpected revelation that deepens its emotional resonance. Others, if published in Oliver’s lifetime, would have benefited from an editor’s hand, such as the overlong impressionistic experiment 'Frozen Voices,' or 'Our Trip to the Nature Museum,' an unsubtle story of a teacher involved with a black child’s home life. We can only imagine what wonders Oliver might have produced had she lived, but the precocious talent on display here is cause enough for celebration.
It’s hard to know what brilliance she might have bestowed on the world had she lived longer, but the newly published collection Neighbors and Other Stories provides some inkling. Oliver’s perceptive, insightful work reflects great talent and ambition. The ease and elegance of her prose are striking, as is her faith in her readers’ intelligence — the certainty that they will see glints of subtext without the need for explication ... Several stories stand out either stylistically or thematically ... As in other moments throughout this collection, Oliver imbues this one with a kind of sorrowful determination, a dignified uncertainty.