The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks

by Russell Banks

Hardcover, 2001




Harper Perennial (2001), Edition: First Edition, 528 pages


With The Angel on the Roof, Russell Banks offers readers an astonishing collection of thirty years of his short fiction, revised especially for this volume and highlighted by the inclusion of nine new stories that are among the finest he has ever written. As is characteristic of all of Bank's works, these stories resonate with irony and compassion, honesty and insight, extending into the vast territory of the heart and the world, from working-class New England to Florida and the Caribbean and Africa. Broad in scope and rich in imagination, The Angel on the Roof affirms Russell Banks's place as one of the masters of American storytelling.

Media reviews

In the course of nearly 40 years of steady industry, during which he has turned out 13 books of fiction, Russell Banks has allowed his imagination to range freely across time and geography. He has observed the hard realities of life in the contemporary Caribbean in ''The Book of Jamaica'' and
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''Continental Drift,'' concocted a creepy, parallel-universe 17th century in ''The Relation of My Imprisonment'' and sung the battle hymn of Harpers Ferry and Bleeding Kansas in ''Cloudsplitter,'' his swollen saga of the life of John Brown. But with the same kind of homing-pigeon intuition that keeps Philip Roth returning to North Jersey in the 1940's and 50's, Banks always circles back to his own native ecosystem -- the bare, wintry towns of central New England and upstate New York in the raw confusion of the present and the recent past. In ''The Angel on the Roof,'' a collection of 31 stories, 22 gleaned from four earlier collections of short fiction along with nine that are appearing between hard covers for the first time, Banks pauses to examine the guilty conscience of an American businessman in Africa, the inner life of Edgar Allan Poe and the final musings of Simon Bolivar. But these moments seem anomalous. They detract from the cumulative force of the collection, which comes from its relentless anatomy of contemporary life in the northeastern United States.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member ALLLGooD
I first heard of Russell Banks on "This American Life" where he read his short story "Sarah Cole: A type of love story," now one of my favorites. I usually don't post excerpts but you'll get the feel of Mr. Banks in the opening of "Sarah Cole..."

"To begin, then, here is a scene in which I am the
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man and my friend Sarah Cole is the woman. I don't mind describing it now, because I'm a decade older and don't look the same now as I did then, and Sarah is dead. That is to say, on hearing this story you might think me vain if I looked the same now as I did then, because I must tell you that I was extremely handsome then. And if Sarah were not dead, you'd think I were cruel, for I must tell you that Sarah was very homely. In fact, she was the homeliest woman I have ever known. Personally, I mean. I've seen a few women who were more unattractive than Sarah, but they were clearly freaks of nature or had been badly injured or had been victimized by some grotesque, disfiguring disease. Sarah, however, was quite normal, and I knew her well, because for three and a half months we were lovers."
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
I was driving back from playing tennis the other day, and I caught most of Russell Bank's story, The Moor, on the radio program This American Life. There was something about it that just spoke to me in a way that sounded intimate and familiar. So, when I got home, I immediately walked over to the
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University Library to see if I could find more of this kind of thing. I ran into this book, a collection of short stories, and I started to read them. I know this guy grew up in New Hampshire, and I grew up in Arizona, but there is something about our experiences that just resonates. I don't read a lot of fiction, but when I do, this is the reason I like it. If you are of a certain age, I think you will find this book most interesting.
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LibraryThing member jawalter
Russell Banks continues to be an author who makes me regret not having found him earlier in my life. On the other hand, I wonder if I would have been able to truly appreciate him before now, or if his particular blend of melancholy and regret are only suited to the man I've become.

This is a great
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collection of short stories, and it was especially exciting to see his occasional jumps outside the comfort zone of rural New Hampshire. Still, my favorites from the collection are probably "The Fisherman" and "Plains of Abraham," both of which manage to merge Banks' genius at characterization with a compelling story. "The Moor" is also great, although it lacks much in the way of plot.
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LibraryThing member mmignano11
Banks tops the list of my favorite writers. Every story in this collection was unique and surprising, not in a purposely shocking sort of way, but in a unique, creative and perceptive way. While Banks is known as a novelist, he is a master at the short form. While he writesfrom a distinctly male
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point-of-view, his stories do not lack empathy.
In Angel On The Roof he writes about lives of loneliness and desperation, the action taking place in a trailer park. Banks often explores the relationship between father and son. Most of his characters appear in several stories, giving "Angel..." a sense of continuity. His male characters tend to be oblivious, but we care about them. In "Fisherman", an old ice fisherman stashes away his $50,000.00 lottery winnings, causing the inhabitants of the trailer park to reveal their true natures as they vie for his largesse. Throughout these stories we experience a landscape deeply lived in, and lives that, because they will not respond to change or grow, are faced with a grim future. Most important are the relationships we uncover through Banks powerful writing. They remain the focus of the collection, gleaned from over 25 years of Banks best short writing. Hugely recommended.
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LibraryThing member wordsampersand
There was a bit I liked: the links between all of the "trailer park" stories; some of the narrative weight a few of the stories had; and some deft prose here and there. But overall, I was unimpressed. In the concluding notes, Banks says that is clear to him how much he's grown as an author. And
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it's true — the earlier stories read like rough drafts, and more often than not make me feel like I'd be better off just job-shadowing caustic drunks and dead-beat dads for a day instead of reading flat prose about them.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
Intricately knit, and fairly well written, collection of short stories that are character driven. Some of the exposition is sharp and remarkable-- other times it falls flat. I was surprised, as well as disappointed, engaged, sighing, and enjoying all the different short stories in this collection.
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With such a mixed bag, it is hard to assign a rating, but I believe that 3 stars is the correct one.

It is worth the read for those interested in contemporary short stories. For those into that, go for it.
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Ambassador Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 2001)


Original language

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