The Stories

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Squabble, and Other Stories is the first collection of John Holman’s short fiction. The title story is about a young professor who loses his teaching job because of budget cutbacks and ends up tending bar at a dive where customers have to be searched for weapons before being allowed to enter. He meets an assortment of unusual characters, including a vivacious young woman with whom he contemplates having a love affair. The point of the story seems to be that upward mobility for African Americans is fraught with danger.

In “Peso Street,” another young intellectual type is thrown in with a group of unusual characters at a house party. Some of the characters seem to have underworld connections. They talk about a recent funeral that degenerated into a brawl. The very pointlessness of the story seems to underline the alienation of the characters involved.

In “Presence,” two young black friends are working on a car at their apartment complex. A young white truck driver tries to make friends with them by bringing a six-pack of beer. He tells them a story of a violent family feud. The two friends feel uncomfortable with his “presence” and obviously wish he would go away. The story symbolizes the difficulties blacks and whites have relating to one another, even when they have the best intentions.

In “I and I,” three young men are delivering cocaine to various dealers in the state of Mississippi. They stay high on alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. They pick up a couple of young local women and stage an impromptu party in a deserted house. All three men seem to realize that they are trapped in a trade that will inevitably lead to prison or death. The story reflects the fatalism of many modern African American men.

“On Earth” is the story of a sensitive young man who leaves home because he realizes that his parents have gotten old, and he cannot bear to see them die. He ends up going to college in another city and renting a furnished room from a tough-minded landlady who shares the house with her daughter and young grandson. The young hero becomes a part of this family, but his landlady suddenly dies of a stroke and he realizes that he will soon have to move on again. The story illustrates the omnipresence of death and suffering “on earth.”

“Scuff” is one of Holman’s stories that contrast...

(The entire section is 969 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Barth, John. “A Few Words About Minimalism.” The New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1986, 1. This article makes it easy to understand the heated controversy concerning minimalist fiction. An understanding of minimalism is indispensable to an understanding of Holman’s stories. Barth is definitely not a minimalist himself but displays an open-minded attitude in his discussion.

Carver, Raymond. Where I’m Calling From. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. Carver, who died in 1988, was the foremost minimalist writer of his time and had a powerful influence on Holman’s literary career. Reading Carver is essential to understanding minimalism in contemporary American fiction, just as understanding minimalism is essential to understanding Holman’s work.

Cecil, Vicki. Review of Squabble, and Other Stories, by John Holman. Library Journal 115 (May 15, 1990): 94. Holman’s stories receive enthusiastic commendation for their sense of humor and generally realistic portrayal of contemporary young African Americans. Cecil is one of few critics to call attention to Holman’s compassionate attitude toward social misfits.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 1966. Two early Hemingway stories, “The Killers” and “Hills Like White Elephants,”...

(The entire section is 405 words.)