Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Most criticism of Holman’s stories has been favorable, although some critics have expressed antipathy toward his minimalist style. In her review of Squabble, and Other Stories in The New York Times Book Review, fiction writer Margot Mifflin, obviously a member of the antiminimalist camp, complained that Holman sounded too derivative. Her only praise went to the story “Yard Lights, Water, and Wink,” which she called “an astonishing departure from a plodding impressionism into a perfect explosion of expressionism.” She expressed the hope that Holman would write more such stories if he would “stop echoing his teachers’ voices and find his own.”

Holman actually took writing courses with two of the most famous minimalist short-story writers, Raymond Carver and Frederick Barthelme. The resemblance between Holman’s and Carver’s stories is particularly striking; Holman even has a wry humor that strongly resembles Carver’s. Holman’s humorous attitude toward the perplexities of modern life is a feature often singled out by critics who have discussed his stories. Although it is undeniable that Holman often “echoes his teachers’ voices,” it is a moot question whether he should abandon minimalism, since he has demonstrated such mastery of its techniques that he might be considered Carver’s natural successor.