This book is truly something special. Kenan so well captures the atmosphere of Down East North Carolina that you’ll feel the thick inland air close on your skin as you read. Each story is a masterclass in subtle surprise, full of the gentlest delight and horror, and each life – those being lived and those long past being resurrected – is rendered so fully that once you close the pages you’ll feel you’ve also spent a lifetime in Tims Creek. You won’t want to leave.— Chris Lee
While Randall Kenan’s protagonists roam from Las Vegas to Barbados, the heart of this collection is small town of Tims Creek, North Carolina. One character runs into Billy Idol, while another, in a powerhouse autofiction story, buys a home that was said to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, only to see a ghost who traveled the route. Two of the women find themselves with unwanted gifts – one is asked by Howard Hughes to be his cook while another finds she has unwanted healing powers when she joins a megachurch. Kenan’s stories are both classic and modern, folk-infused and of the moment, exploring race, gender, and identity. It’s been almost thirty years since Let the Dead Bury the Dead, which I still own in hardcover; Kenan’s been busy teaching and focusing on his nonfiction writing, including several books on James Baldwin. The wait was worth it!— Daniel Goldin
Longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction
Mingling the earthy with the otherworldly, these ten stories chronicle ineffable events in ordinary lives.
In Kenan’s fictional territory of Tims Creek, North Carolina, an old man rages in his nursing home, a parson beats up an adulterer, a rich man is haunted by a hog, and an elderly woman turns unwitting miracle worker. A retired plumber travels to Manhattan, where Billy Idol sweeps him into his entourage. An architect who lost his famous lover to AIDS reconnects with a high-school fling. Howard Hughes seeks out the woman who once cooked him butter beans.
Shot through with humor and seasoned by inventiveness and maturity, Kenan riffs on appetites of all kinds, on the eerie persistence of history, and on unstoppable lovers and unexpected salvations. If I Had Two Wings is a rich chorus of voices and visions, dreams and prophecies, marked by physicality and spirit. Kenan’s prose is nothing short of wondrous.
About the Author
Randall Kenan (1963–2020) was the former chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. He lived in Hillsborough, North Carolina.