As ever with Hurston, it’s the range that impresses. Jostling in these handsomely edited pages are tales that read like magical-realist folklore, alongside miniature epics conjuring 1920s Harlem in the style of the King James Bible (“Then hied him to the hall of dancing where many leaped with the cymbal, and shook with the drums”). There are glimpses of mean city streets, gambling dens and child beggars, as well as poignant portrayals of Florida life, so evocative you can smell the jasmine.
All of these 21 stories are enlivened by the author’s wickedly funny, sprightly dialogue. Sixty years after Hurston’s death – and more than 80 since her masterpiece, 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God – the editor of Hitting a Straight Lick… has wisely chosen not to tamper with grammatical idiosyncrasies or the Florida vernacular of Houston’s home town, Eatonville, giving an edge to the tales that whistle and sing. The darkest stories confront the complexities of love and race. When, in Muttsy, southern woman Pinkie arrives at a disreputable boarding house in Harlem, she finds herself the centre of the men’s attention. Though there are no white characters, Hurston subtly illuminates the self-loathing and deference to whites that pervades black communities.