Cover image for The smallest people alive
The smallest people alive
Banner, Keith.
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Publication Information:
Pittsburgh : Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004.

Physical Description:
260 pages ; 20 cm.
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In The Smallest People Alive, Keith Banner writes about people and situations many times ignored by other fiction writers. These are stories focused on lives outside the mainstream, and yet they are invested with precision, tenderness and artistry. The title story, awarded an O. Henry Prize, chronicles the lives of two boyhood friends, one who is recovering from a suicide attempt, the other trying to figure out how he can help. In their stumbling allegiance to each other, they find a sort of solace, and as the story reaches its conclusion, the reader is given an intimate view of what it means to wake up from a nightmare and realize you have to go on living, even though life may not be worth it all of the time.

Author Notes

KEITH BANNER lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio. His first novel, The Life I Lead, was published in 1999. His short stories have been published in The Kenyon Review, Washington Square, and Witness, as well as anthologized in O. Henry Prize Stories, Full Frontal Fiction: the Best of, and Best American Gay Fiction. He is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council fellowship.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Banner's first collection (following his 1999 novel The Life I Lead) sears and surprises. His stories, mainly set in Ohio and Tennessee, read like small revelations, perhaps because they focus on people usually ignored in gay fiction-rural, low-income, overweight, largely uneducated folks with dead-end or thankless jobs; they might call themselves "white trash," but Banner gives them a dark and fragile dignity. Two developmentally disabled gay men living in a group home are given a secret wedding in "The Wedding of Tom to Tom" after their caregivers look past the constant, against-the-rules coupling to see their deep bond. In the disturbing "Holding Hands for Safety," the overweight narrator's gorgeous cousin has just murdered his 10-year-old "borderline retarded" half-sister. The boys kiss, and the narrator relishes Trent's sudden vulnerability: "he needed someone to love him right after he told.... He knew that I would not tell no one because I wanted him so bad, and that makes me feel trashy but also full of hope again because it will only be me and him who know." Banner demands-and gets-empathy for these often unappealing characters. Their voices are direct and heartbreakingly honest, and Banner's use of imagery brilliantly echoes the low-rent surroundings (fried mushrooms in a fast food restaurant are described as "floating like little severed heads in a hot black lake"). In the O. Henry-winning title story, two characters epitomize Banner's world with queasy, tender precision: "Two queers... in rural Ohio, one slightly obese, the other skinny tight-lipped, wanting to escape but not knowing how." Agent, Gail Hochman. (June) Forecast: These are dark, fearless stories; blurbs from Mary Gaitskill and Michael Cunningham saying as much should help Banner snag some of the wider audience he deserves. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Is This Thing On?
The Doll the Fire Made
The Wedding to Tom to Tom
The One I Remember
Where You Live
Spider in the Snow
What We At That Day After Church
Holding Hands for Safety
Gay Day
Dark Eyes
The Smallest People Alive