The Clouds in Memphis: Stories and Novellas (Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction)

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9781558492660: The Clouds in Memphis: Stories and Novellas (Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction)

The late Raymond Carver wrote of Matty's Heart, C. J. Hribal's first book, "our literature is healthier, and wiser with the publication of this collection of short fiction." Commenting on the same volume, Anne Tyler wrote, "some of these pieces are real masterpieces." Now Hribal is back with a new collection that charts both the recesses of the human heart and the resiliency of the human spirit. In three novellas and two short stories, Hribal traces the arcs of emotion and action that can follow on the heels of calamity. In the title novella, a divorced woman whose oldest son is hit and killed by a reckless driver struggles to come to terms with both her grief and the wreckage of her life since her marriage ended. In "War Babies," the sister of a woman killed in what may or may not have been an industrial accident tries to imagine the circumstances leading up to her sister's death, believing that in knowledge there can be solace. A different tack is taken by the central character in "Consent," a real estate developer who has to deal with a drowning that occurs in his newest subdivision: his reconstruction of the event carries him into dangerous moral territory. But not all the territory here is dangerous. The novella "And That's the Name of That Tune" features a narrator who recalls his father's escapades in a bar when the son was his seven-year-old companion. Tender, compassionate, bewildered, the son strives to understand the havoc his father inflicts on his family. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote that Hribal "establishes an American landscape in the tradition of Cheever and Updike, though his is a world not of cocktail parties but of trailer parks, bars, and courtrooms. The subtle power of these stories will leave the reader hungry for more."

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About the Author:

C. J. Hribal lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is associate professor of English at Marquette University. His previous books include Matty's Heart (1984), American Beauty (1987), and The Boundaries of Twilight: Czecho-Slovak Writing from the New World (1991). He received a B.A. in 1979 from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and an M.A. in 1982 from Syracuse University.

Review:

"These are plainly beautiful stories, and the emotions within them have an unusually specific density and weight. C. J. Hribal's understanding of his characters and of their worlds is so thorough and so compassionate that the stories do not seem made-up at all, and yet they bear witness to the writer's craft and to the power of the imagination to shape and to bring raw materials to life."―Charles Baxter

"Precisely written, unapologetically heartfelt stories. Hribal's compassion for these men, women, and children shines about them like an aura."―A. Manette Ansay, author of Vinegar Hill

"In the days after reading the stories, I found myself caught in a pause or a sigh or a reconsidering thought about a circumstance or character, and these afterthoughts are one of the first indicators of a work of substance. Besides this, the variety and range of authentic characters is truly impressive."―Larry Woiwode, author of What I Think I Did

"Unlucky victims of fate confront the careless, sometimes fatal accidents of their haphazard lives in Hribal's (Matty's Heart; American Beauty) latest collection. In three heart-wrenching novellas and two short stories, mostly set in a small Wisconsin town, Hribal brings to life striking, surreal characters while exactingly detailing the mechanics of everyday existence. The portrait gallery includes a divorced mother attempting to cope with the trial of the blond preppie who killed her son in a drunk-driving accident ("The Clouds in Memphis"); an unwed mother suspiciously watching her co-workers at a canning factory for clues to her sister's death in the cooling tank ("War Babies"); a son who has escaped smalltown life recalling his father's last hopes and disappointments ("The Last Great Dream of My Father"). "Consent," a chilling interior monologue, reveals the secrets of a real estate developer who arrives at a ravine where an unidentified boy has drowned. The developer knows who is responsible, but chooses to remain quiet rather than upset the "tranquility" of his investment and disturb the affluent people who live on the site. Hribal slides the emotional fabric of America under a literary microscope to reveal the lies, betrayals and yearnings that connect and divide us all, giving his stories extraordinary power. He establishes an American landscape in the tradition of Cheever and Updike, though his is a world not of cocktail parties but of trailer parks, bars and courtrooms. The subtle power of these stories will leave the reader hungry for more. Winner of the Associated Writing Programs 1999 Award in Short Fiction, Hribal does not quite achieve the effortless prose of Cheever and Updike, but there is an immediacy to his stories that could make this book a sleeper for readers of literary fiction."―Publishers Weekly

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