Whether depicting a troubled teenager with a crush on her high school English teacher, an immigrant from Guatemala who cleans rooms at the Plaza Hotel or a lonely beauty salon employee who human ties consist principally of those she imagines with fellow subway riders, Lucy Honig draws the characters in her first collection with deft, sympathetic strokes. Most of the book's nine stories are set in or near Manhattan. In a series of interlocking stories entitled, The Truly Needy Honig brings a group of unrelated people—a social service organization director with a midlife crisis, her secretary, a Cambodian refugee who is haunted by her past, a homeless couple and actors filing a scene about life on the street—into uncanny relationships with one another. Along the way, she illustrates how the social boundaries that separate us are so often dependent on chance. Honig's characters never degenerate into types or sink into self-pity, but soldier on, displaying courage in untenable situations and compassion where we might least expect to find it.
These nine stories are teeming with people on the margins, where destitute New Yorkers and determined immigrants are as much at the mercy of social services, media attention, opportunistic politicians, and “quality-of-life” campaigns as they are prey to grinding poverty, dangerous streets, and their own haunting memories. Delving into Lucy Honig’s fiction, one is willingly drawn into an intimacy with these resilient, but flawed characters—among them, a woman who cleans a beauty salon, a high school kid who’s lost a parent, a runaway Cambodian bride, an actress, and a homeless woman. Crossing paths, these difficult characters often misunderstand and sometimes demean each other, yet they also redeem and rescue one other in odd and unexpected ways. In The Truly Needy, Lucy Honig has created a heartbreaking, imaginative world that is the American urban landscape.
I am enormously impressed by Lucy Honig's collection of short stories, The Truly Needy. Whether she is portraying the moving, American triumphs of a Guatemalan mother, a Cambodian secretary's flight from an arranged marriage to selfhood, or the tender relationship between a high school teacher and his troubled star pupil, Honig's stories brim over with memorable characters, enough rich details for modern life to fill a novel, and a heart big enough to embrace the world in all its complexity and ambiguity. The Truly Needy is, in a word, one of the most satisfying literary works of the '90s, one loaded with gifts readers will remember for a long, long time.
Lucy Honig's work possesses a startling, unnerving moral energy; it is work that tells us a good deal about who we are—work that addresses darker moments, and yet, does so without moralistic bombast—rather, with a talented writer's illuminating , disarming irony.
Lucy Honig discovers the real America through her masterly storytelling. This is a magnificent book.
Distinctive not only for its beautifully precise prose and compelling characters, but also for its ability to see 'the worst and still come back,' as one character says. . . .There is much more to say about The Truly Needy and what it reveals about the cross-pollination of cultural values, the mishmash of the personal and the political, our desire to belong. [These stories] quietly, slyly, and convincingly remind us of the human potential for decency.
Nine stories, set mostly in New York City, make up Honig's second collection, brimming with complex, vividly drawn characters teetering precariously between alienation and empathy, displacement and communion, despair and perseverance. . . . Convincing detail and candid, insightful narrative draw the reader deep into the lives of these ordinary people and their sometimes extraordinary revelations. Honig permeates the collection with a quirky hopefulness in the resilience of these memorable characters and their unexpected moments of human connection—even as they struggle, with quiet heroism, to make their place in a modern world they can neither control nor explain.
Lucy Honig‘s stories have appeared in two O. Henry Prize story collections, and in Best American Short Stories, as well as in DoubleTake, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Witness, Agni, and other magazines. Her first novel, Picking Up, was published by Dog Ear Press. She has received the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship and a Northwood Institute Creativity Center Fellowship. For many years she juggled writing with work that ranged from farming in the Maine woods and teaching English to immigrants in Brooklyn to directing a county human rights commission in upstate New York. Since 1995 she has taught in the graduate program in International Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health. She lives just outside of Boston.