Cover image for The angel on the roof : the stories of Russell Banks.
The angel on the roof : the stories of Russell Banks.
Banks, Russell, 1940-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
506 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.2 29.0 49648.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Central Library
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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The Angel on the Roof

After nine critically acclaimed novels, Russell Banks has firmly established himself as one of the great American novelists. But throughout his career Banks has also been a master of the short form, publishing four story collections, winning O. Henry and Best American Short Story Awards and other prizes, and contributing stories to such publications as Esquire, New American Review, Antaeus, Mississippi Review, and Partisian Review. Now, with The Angel on the Roof, Banks offers readers an astonighsing collection of thirty years of his short fiction. As is characteristic of all Banks's works, these stories resonate with irony and compassion, honsty and insight, extending into the vast territory of the heart and world, from working-class New England to Florida and the Caribbean and Africa. Along with nine new stories that are among the finest fiction he has ever written, Banks has selected the best pieces from his previous collections and revised them especially for this volume. Broad in scope and rich in imagination, The Angel on the Roof is a true representation of the breadth of Russell Bank's work and affirms his place on one of the masters of American storytelling.

Author Notes

The oldest of four children, Russell Banks spent his childhood and adolescence in New Hampshire and Eastern Massachusetts. His blue collar, working class background is strongly reflected in his writing.

The first in his family to attend college, Banks studied at Colgate University and later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. While he was establishing himself as a writer, Banks spent time as a plumber, shoe salesman, and a window dresser.

Banks's titles include Searching for Survivors, Family Life, Hamilton Stark, The New World, The Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, The Relation of My Imprisonment, Continental Drift, Success Stories, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter and Dreaming Up America. Banks has also written numerous poems, stories, and essays.

Banks is the recipient of several awards and prizes. Among his accolades are the St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, the John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1986, Continental Drift was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Banks, author of such memorable novels as Rule of the Bone (1995) and Cloudsplitter (1998), is not particularly well known as a short-story writer, but this omnibus collection of his stories displays a formidable talent in the shorter form. Banks creates imaginative but easily accessible plots in such stories as "Djinn," in which a businessman in Africa encounters a surrealistic world, and "The Fish," a parable about how peoples' pilgrimages to visit a fish with purported miraculous powers are seen by the local government (in an unnamed but obviously repressive country) as political opposition. Banks' stories will appeal to a variety of readers, even those not typically comfortable with short stories. His uncomplicated, direct prose style poses no threat to understanding, and even the stories with multiple meanings--the fish parable, for example--are readily accessible. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Two-thirds of the 32 stories in this magnificent collection have appeared before, in the four volumes of short fiction Banks has published over the past 25 years; all, including nine new ones, were chosen by the author as representative of work that "did not on rereading make me cringe." Banks is a born short story writer and confesses he loves the form; in many of the entries here, the impact is all the more powerful for the intense concentration he brings to bear on the desperate lives he so often chooses to chronicle. The best of these tales, many of them set in the sad New Hampshire trailer park that was the basis for an entire collection of linked tales, tell of the anguish of parents and children moving apart, of husbands and wives and lovers facing the grim certainty that nothing in their relationships is going to change or improve. "The Burden," about a man's despairing break with his no-good son; "Quality Time," about a daughter realizing she has finally moved away from her father; "Firewood," about a couple trapped by ruined expectations; and "Queen for a Day," about a small boy's efforts to cheer up his failing mother, are almost unbearably poignant, unflinching glimpses into the dark recesses of life, illuminated by Banks's unfailing compassion and steady eye and ear. These stories, like his wintry northern landscapes, are deeply lived in. Yet Banks can be equally evocative of exotic corners of the world, as in "Djinn" and "The Fish," mysterious fables set in Africa and India. Only in such flights as "Indisposed," an imagining of William Hogarth's wife, or "With Che in New Hampshire," in which he mixes myth and actuality, does Banks seem on more tentative ground. But most of the stories strike home swiftly and surely, reminding a reader again and again of the amplitude of the form in the hands of a master. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Noted for his scintillating novels, e.g., Continental Drift, Banks here collects 30 years of short fiction and treats us to nine new stories. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Dancing With My Eyes Closed When I began writing nearly forty years ago, I wanted to be a poet, but had not the gift and fell in love instead with the short story, the form in prose closest to lyric poetry. Unable to court successfully the queen of the arts, I turned my attention to her lady-in-waiting. This is not a rare form of abandonment (as Faulkner famously observed, "All fiction writers are failed poets"), but in any event, it's clear enough to me why I abandoned poetry early, almost too early to have failed at it, for the short story. Too many of my close friends at college and shortly afterwards obviously had the gifts (of language, wit, personal charm, good looks--whatever it took to woo and win the favors of the queen's main muse), and by unavoidable comparison to poetry-writing friends like William Matthews, James Tate, and Charles Simic, I was tongue-tied, humorless, bad-mannered, and homely. No wonder I turned to prose fiction. Before leaving, however, I did publish a fair number of those early poems in obscure--but not obscure enough- literary magazines and journals and published two chapbooks of poetry in small--but not small enough--editions. They show up now and then in the hands of collectors at book-signings, and it's all I can do to keep from tearing the book from the collector's hands and starting an auto-da-fe with it right there in the store. I'm not so much ashamed of those poor poems as embarrassed by the vanity of my youthful ambition, by its evident (to me, now) transparency, and am comforted a bit only by calling to mind Nathaniel Howthorne's first book, an absolutely awful bodice- ripper entitled Fanshawe, self-published in an edition of perhaps 500 copies that he spent his life afterwards quietly seeking out, purchasing, and destroying by fire, in the process (since he got all but a handful of copies) making it one of the rarest, most expensive books in American literature. Unable to cohabit with lyric poetry, I, like my illustrious ancestor, took up temporary residence instead with her nearest neighbor, the short story, and only later moved across town as he did, to settle more or less permanently, I thought, with the novel. In the intervening years, though I've written a dozen or so novels and remain faithful to the form and its power, it's nonetheless the story form that thrills me. It invites me today, still, as it did those many years ago, to behave on the page in a way that is more reckless, more sharply painful, and more stylistically elaborate that is allowed by the steady, slow, bourgeois respectability of the novel, which, like a good marriage, demands long-term commitment, tolerance, and compromise. The novel, in order to exist at all, accrues, accretes, and accumulates itself in small increments, like a coral reef, and through that process invites from its creator leisurely exploration and slow growth. By contrast, stories are like a perfect wave, if one is a surfer; or a love affair, if one is a lover. They forgive one's mercurial nature, reward one's longing for ecstasy, and make of one's short memory a virtue. They keep an old man or woman young, so to speak. A year ago, last winter, after a decade and a half of writing only novels--four of them, actually, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone and Cloudsplitter- arduous years uninterrupted by my usual, earlier practice of following a novel with a wild and crazy year or two of short-story writing (as a respite, I suppose, but also merely to release my brain from the sort of obsessional thinking that goes with novel-writing), I finally sat down and over the course of the next six months wrote nine new stories. I felt almost wanton and promiscuous. My delight, however, was tinged mysteriously with guilt. Maybe I'd been having too much fun, or perhaps, as if dancing wildly with my eyes closed, I had inadvertently made a fool of myself in public, revealed too much of my secret, subconscious self. Troubled and intrigued, I decided to examine and evaluate earlier instances of this reckless behavior and went back and, for the first time in many years, re-read my four previously published collections of stories, Searching for Survivors, The New World, Trailerpark, and Success Stories, a group of nearly one hundred stories in all. Many of them, most of them, were terrible, as bad as my poems, and evoked in me the same embarrassment and shame as had the poems--for the vanity of my youthful (and in many cases not-so-youthful) ambition and its ability to cloud my mind and warp my judgement. Why, I wondered, had I even published them? Why couldn't I have made such terrible mistakes in private? It was a depressing and humbling read. Not that they were technically inept. In general, the stories were skillfully executed, stylish in the several popular modes of the 1960's and 1970's--minimalist after Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, meta-fictional after Barthelme, Barth, Gass, and Coover, sometimes braiding the two formalist tendencies in a single story, as if the tendencies were not, as their respective adherents claimed, opposed to one another. No, what depressed and humbled me was what I saw lurking behind the surface of the story--the personality and character of the author himself, the young writer whose all-too-evident rage, pride, and insecurity were sabotaging his attempts to write stories that stood a chance of outliving him. Obviously, I knew a great deal about him already, his difficult childhood, his turbulent adolescence, his failed (as he viewed them) first and second marriages, and so on; but it was the stories themselves that gave him away. So many of them, it seemed, had been written to obscure the degree to which their author had no idea of who he was or what he was doing or whether he was any good at it. Preoccupied with the self, rather than with the world, they were the work of a young man who too often judged his characters, especially the characters who most closely resembled the author himself; and when he did not judge them, he idealized them, hovering like a custodial parent above the same character he'd just condemned, the one resembling the author. His characters were stand-ins for his shifting, unreliable opinions of himself. Thus his reliance on fashion, on the popular story-telling modes of the time. A few of the stories, once I gave them a second look, did not embarrass me. Quite the opposite. They were the real thing, freed, it seemed to me, from the authorial vanity and literary self-consciousness. And I could see that, with a snip here, and a tuck there, if I sucked in their stomachs and adjusted the lighting a bit, they might, even to me, seem capable of successfully courting the nearest relative of the queen of the arts. These were, for the most part, stories about single mothers, blue-collar working men and women, elderly people, a retired army colonel, a gay bank clerk, and so on-characters who did not much resemble their neurotic young author. The few whose demographic profile did match the author's portrayed him only as a child or adolescent, twenty or more years earlier, beyond judgement, beyond idealization, no longer subject to his rage, pride, or insecurity. Forgiven. Of the nearly one hundred stories previously published in book form, I selected twenty-two that I wanted to revise and keep into my old age. The rest I decided could and should be consigned to the dustbin of juvenilia, even though some of them had been written when I was in my forties. With those twenty-two revised early stories and the nine new ones now in hand--and ample, mixed bouquet displayed in my publisher's handsome yet unpretentious vase--I might knock at the muse's door and be let in. I might be almost-a-poet yet. In June when this new book is published, I will have just turned sixty. And while re-reading, rejecting and finally revising the best of them has been a little like visiting with my past and all-but-forgotten selves, re-acquainting myself with the man I was in my twenties, thirties, forties, and so on, it has also revealed to me the man I was not. Not then, anyhow, and maybe not now or ever. Unsurprisingly, the kid in his twenties who wrote "Searching for Survivors," one of the earliest stories included, a somewhat melancholy, dreamy, self-dramatizing fellow with a lyrical impulse running through his every perception, turns out to be not significantly different than the more ironic, bemused, and plain-spoken, late-middle-aged man who at the age of fifty-nine wrote the most recent stories in the collection. I have come to see that most of the stories I left behind, like my earlier selves, were failed experiments which at the time of their composition were necessary for me to have attempted, for I would not have learned my craft if I had not written them. And while I now wish that I had not afterwards submitted them for publication, I nonetheless must admit that had I not published them, first in magazines and later in books, I doubt that I'd be able today to recognize them as failures. If I'd tossed them out while they were still in manuscript form, if I'd strangled my darlings in their beds, as Flannery O'Connor advised young writers to do, I would not have learned from them as much as I have. In cold print, in black and white, wildly dancing eyes-closed in public for all to see, those experiments, like my early poems, like my early selves, taught me what I have no talent for and, in the end, no abiding interest in. Excerpted from The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks by Russell Banks All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.