If I Had Two Wings: Stories (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

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

Finalist for the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize

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.

Praise For…

Randall Kenan is an American master and If I Had Two Wings is his latest gift to us. These unforgettable characters cannot be confined to a page. They are real; they are flawed; they are beautifully human. Each gorgeous story contains a world in miniature and a human spirit in full flower.

— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

This is a riveting collection of stories with a vibrant cast of characters, both corporeal and fantastical, and a stunning sense of place. Stories—comic, tragic, and human; with themes of faith, fury, chicanery, miracles, and weather—swirl out from Down East North Carolina, touch down gently around the world, and come home to the magnetic center of Tims Creek. It was a pleasure to live in this book.
— Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State

Oh, the magic and music Randall Kenan brings to the page. He is a beautiful writer, full of surprises, and his latest masterful collection, If I Had Two Wings, is a mesmerizing showcase of his many talents. He can make poetry of pigs feet, deliver brilliant social commentary, illuminate the ghosts of a time and place, and leave you aching for childhood memories of comfort and longing.

— Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

The slyly soulful Kenan takes his time between books. Now he rewards readers who have waited almost three decades for a return to his fictional Tims Creek, North Carolina... It is a feast. Ten artful stories conjure contemporary North Carolina, mouthwatering and matter-of-factly haunted.
— Kirkus (starred review)

Product Details
ISBN: 9781324005469
ISBN-10: 1324005467
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: August 4th, 2020
Pages: 224
Language: English