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Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver
Short stories

Neighbors and Other Stories

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Diane Oliver, on your first book!

by Diane Oliver

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Quick take

This newly discovered classic explores the intimate, everyday moments and horrors found in life under Jim Crow.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary

    Literary

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious

    Serious

Synopsis

A remarkable talent far ahead of her time, Diane Oliver died in 1966 at the age of 22, leaving behind these crisply told and often chilling tales that explore race and racism in 1950s and 60s America. In this first and only collection by a masterful storyteller finally taking her rightful place in the canon, Oliver’s insightful stories reverberate into the present day.

There’s the nightmarish “The Closet on the Top Floor” in which Winifred, the first Black student at her newly integrated college, starts to physically disappear; “Mint Juleps not Served Here” where a couple living deep in a forest with their son go to bloody lengths to protect him; “Spiders Cry without Tears” in which a couple, Meg and Walt, are confronted by prejudices and strains of interracial and extramarital love; and the high tension titular story that follows a nervous older sister the night before her little brother is set to desegregate his school.

These are incisive and intimate portraits of African American families in everyday moments of anxiety and crisis that look at how they use agency to navigate their predicaments. As much a social and historical document as it is a taut, engrossing collection, Neighbors is an exceptional literary feat from a crucial once-lost figure of letters.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Neighbors and Other Stories.
Neighbors and Other Stories

NEIGHBORS

The bus turning the corner of Patterson and Talford Avenue was dull this time of evening. Of the four passengers standing in the rear, she did not recognize any of her friends. Most of the people tucked neatly in the double seats were women, maids and cooks on their way from work or secretaries who had worked late and were riding from the office building at the mill. The cotton mill was out from town, near the house where she worked. She noticed that a few men were riding too. They were obviously just working men, except for one gentleman dressed very neatly in a dark gray suit and carrying what she imagined was a push-button umbrella.

He looked to her as though he usually drove a car to work. She immediately decided that the car probably wouldn’t start this morning so he had to catch the bus to and from work. She was standing in the rear of the bus, peering at the passengers, her arms barely reaching the overhead railing, trying not to wobble with every lurch. But every corner the bus turned pushed her head toward a window. And her hair was coming down too, wisps of black curls swung between her eyes. She looked at the people around her. Some of them were white, but most of them were her color. Looking at the passengers at least kept her from thinking of tomorrow. But really she would be glad when it came, then everything would be over.

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Why I love it

The most beloved corner of my personal library belongs to short story collections. There’s something special about the intimacy of short stories, bringing us so close to worlds and people not our own. And that is exactly what Neighbors and Other Stories does. These stories record the mundane horrors but also moments of respite and conviviality experienced by Black people within the Jim Crow era from the perspective of someone who experienced it.

This window into a bygone era can be a challenging read at times. But it is hard to look away, and we shouldn’t. This is our history and inheritance, a time and culture that continues to reverberate today. Each story provides a different angled view on the texture and sound of this period and its racial order. One story follows a woman abandoned by her husband who must make an arduous journey to the hospital. Another follows a Black family who secludes themselves deep in a forest in an attempt to find safety. Or there is the upstairs-downstairs story of two very different Black families connected nonetheless by marriage. Together this collection forms a troubling but beautifully rendered tapestry.

Diane Oliver died tragically at age 22 without having seen these stories published. This is their first time being shared with a wide audience and what a gift to our present. They are evocative, incisive, and deeply humane. It is a collection that I’m so glad to have added to my shelves, and you should follow suit.

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