Virgin and Other Stories

Art, religion and sex: three topics that guarantee provocative, thoughtful fiction in the hands of an assured writer. April Ayers Lawson is just such an assured writer. She addresses these challenging topics with uncommon grace and insight. In the five stories of this debut collection, focusing on characters from the Carolinas, Lawson explores, with admirable restraint, troubled lives and the repercussions of one's choices.

Each story features an artist confused about sexuality and relationships. In the title piece, 26-year-old Jake suspects that his wife, Sheila, a violist and Bob Jones University graduate, is having an affair and contemplates an infidelity of his own. The "Three Friends in a Hammock" are divorced women--a writer, painter and cellist--whose reunion becomes a meditation on what constitutes love. In "The Way You Must Play Always," Gretchen, a student at a private Christian school, falls for her piano teacher's pot-smoking brother, who is recuperating from brain surgery. "The Negative Effects of Homeschooling" chronicles the obsession Conner, the 16-year-old son of a church elder, has with Andrew Wyeth's Helga paintings and his mother's deceased transgender friend. And in "Vulnerability," a married Southern painter entertains an affair with her New York art dealer. Each protagonist in Lawson's perceptive debut works toward an understanding of Sheila's point from the opening piece: "I think everything is already there inside of you.... What I think is that you just become this purer and purer version of what you already are." --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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