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Acts of God Hardcover – April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gilchrist will remain forever beloved for Victory over Japan (1984), her National Book Award–winning collection of short stories. Many outstanding novels have been added to her oeuvre over the years, but Gilchrist’s deliciously wise and humorous voice abides best in the short story form, and her new collection of 10 stories will say to her fans that their reconnection to this openhearted writer from the South is a pure old-home-week experience (especially given that recurring Gilchrist characters make welcome appearances). A thematic connection unifies the stories, which generally reflect recent national events and current social and political conditions that put individuals’ moxie to the test. For instance, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” a beautiful, smart, phenomenally rich story, sees three middle-aged women, former college buddies, off to a vacation in Italy, but they are sidelined along the way by terrorist activity; in post-Katrina New Orleans in the title story, an elderly couple’s last effort at independence from caretakers and infirmities has fatal results, but after their deaths, their youngest son creates an elaborate family tree celebrating life over death. Gilchrist has no interest in soap-box preaching or, for that matter, in sentiment. It’s character exploration she seeks, pure and simple. --Brad Hooper

Review

“[Gilchrist’s] style can be an acquired taste. If I were you, I’d acquire it . . . Gilchrist manages to cut through the loud tussle of the world to present truths made even more striking by how conventional they are . . . The stories in Acts of God are great postcards from the world of Ellen Gilchrist. It’s a world of war and strife and surprises, and it is, yes, marvelous to behold.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“Admirers of her work, among whom I am most certainly to be counted, will find much herein that is familiar and pleasing . . . Gilchrist is at her best when the wry and satirical mood strikes her, especially when she is pricking the balloons of pride that the white Southern upper middle class inflates in its own honor. Now in her late 70s, she has lost none of the zing that brought In the Land of Dreamy Dreams to such wholly unexpected attention, and it’s a pleasure to report that the best of the stories in Acts of God rank with the best in her first collection and in her second, Victory Over Japan, for which she was awarded a richly deserved National Book Award in 1984.” ―The Washington Post

“Flawlessly precise.” ―ReadersDigest.com

“Reading Ellen Gilchrist is addictive . . . Partly, it's the sassy voice that snares you, and partly it's her tight circle of recurrent characters--feisty, unabashedly sexed Southern women, many of whom are related by birth or marriage . . . Her new work is filled with good people who show fortitude and even heroism under duress . . . In this age of edgy irony, her warm-hearted view of humanity is refreshing.” ―NPR.org

“A joy to read. Her protagonists all feel very alive and real.” ―Bust

“[Gilchrist’s] protagonists are generally beautiful and strong, sometimes shallow and often deeply flawed--but they’re always interesting, especially when they’re tested . . . In Acts of God, though, they learn a lesson that Gilchrist’s characters often don’t: that even the rich and the powerful, the quick-witted and the good-looking are vulnerable to storms and disasters, to illness and aging and death . . . These 10 new stories remind the reader we’re all vulnerable to chance, whether it’s a hurricane or a love affair. And these characters, the old ones and the new, settle seamlessly into Gilchrist’s seductive Southern world.” ―Houston Chronicle

“The stories are laced through with good humor and hints of the miraculous . . . There is something--a magic that’s difficult to clarify, that may be corny in someone else’s eyes--to Gilchrist’s work that doesn’t come around often . . . Gilchrist still has the power to turn a simple line into a profound insight on what it’s like to be human. Aging and death are the twin ghouls running throughout Acts of God, looming over the characters, and the result of looking into the void gives these stories wisdom and compassion, or to quote Gilchrist: ‘Glad to be alive in the only world there is, alive and eating and still breathing and not afraid really of anything that might happen next.’” ―Flavorpill.com 

“Gilchrist’s deliciously wise and humorous voice abides best in the short story form, and her new collection of 10 stories will say to her fans that their reconnection to this openhearted writer from the South is a pure old-home-week experience . . . Beautiful, smart, phenomenally rich.” ―Booklist (starred review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161620110X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616201104
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sarah-Hope on April 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Ellen Gilchrist’s short story collection, Acts of God, is a quick, interesting read that will leave you with lots to turn over in your mind. The characters in these stories face, as the title suggests, acts of God: floods, hurricanes, and smaller, but equally unnerving disasters. These characters aren’t heroic in any grand sense. They’re ordinary—sometimes irritatingly so—individuals faced with immense challenges outside their control. As the publisher’s write-up notes, these people “somehow manage to survive, persevere, and even triumph.”

In so many permutations, this cast of characters and their ability to overcome could lead to unsatisfactory results: sacchrine or histrionic or just plain unbelievable. Gilchrist’s achievement is that she allows her characters to overcome while keeping them human. Some of their triumphs are small, but they ring true. And together these stories build a sense of hopefulness that feels more like realism than like wishful thinking.

This is a good book to pick up when you’re feeling worn down, dissatisfied, and short on energy. It won’t transport you to any magical world—but it will make this world seem a bit less daunting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By avid listener on July 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
She is one of my favorite writers. I buy everything she writes. If you are a short story lover, give this a try. I was a reading teacher for 30 years and I never had a student who didn't enjoy this writer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Marshall K Walker on May 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Gilchrist is at the top of her game in her most recent offering to the literate world. Many of these stories resonate with the collective desire for power over events that are larger than ourselves and Gilchrist's characters perform admirably, as usual. The economy of of her language which still drips honesty and humor is a rare gift, indeed increasingly so. The author knows her characters intimately and it is a rare joy to have them shared in such fashion. My favorite story by far was "Hopedale" for the wonderful insight into a world that has only recently vanished. Any person with an ear for a good story would do well to turn your phone off for many hours and devour this wonderful book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amylou Wilson on June 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I will never forget the feeling I had upon reading my first Ellen Gilchrist short stories. Her voice, her writing style, her characters, her tone … all of it resonated with me. In what ways, you ask? Why, as a woman, as a Southerner, as a human being! In all ways!

Ellen Gilchrist’s Acts of God is a joy to read, a fun ride into the mind of a great author whose prose reminds me of a wise goddess simply sharing stories that contain comments on the complexities of life that bedevil us all.
In “High Water,” the ex-mother-in-law shows up unexpectedly to ride out the hurricane in the abode of the son-in-law that she dislikes profusely. She’s haughty and dignified. She expects to be treated like a queen. She speaks only when she must. Other guests (emergency workers) have already arrived to ride out the storm as well. It’s a confusing scene, but one with heart, irony, and downright meanness. However, it’s humanity at its best and worse, during a tough situation. And when things get tough, we all revert, we all cling to whatever we can to survive and try to maintain dignity. Some of us hold on to dignity and pride more than others. This story sheds a little light on that.
My favorite story is “The Dogs,” a diatribe told in epistolary style with letters and emails among neighbors and friends and family as they meander through a dispute over barking dogs and legal rights. There are lots of jokes and funnies in this story. I will not soon forget hearing the author herself read it recently at a book signing event in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Gilchrist still has the touch after all these years. She’s still the award-winning author I remember from years ago, when she won the National Book Award in 1984 for Victory Over Japan. She’s a rock star in the literary world, at least by my estimation. Long live Ellen!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Hofer on June 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ellen Gilchrist's newest short stories are something new again, because of the title, ACTS OF GOD. Even before reading them, one gets the impression that God is present one way or another in them. One thing that does not occur, however, is that God does not appear directly; rather, in reading the stories, the reader can surmise that God works through man and/or through nature, as is the case in the short stories emanating from hurricane Katrina or the tornado. God allows these disasters to happen; man cannot control them; however, He also becomes present through the people who help the victims of these disasters. In other stories, He simply appears to be present, except that in "the Dogs", people act in very un-Godly way and do not allow God in their midst. Remember, God has given man his free will - and this becomes evident in these stories as well. Ellen Gilchrist does a splendid job in making her readers see what God does if man will recognize it. And interestingly enough, I do not know what denomination she belongs to or which church she attends.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Stimson on June 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The crackling dialog from women with deep insights into the messy worlds they live in, and the cast of characters we all meet at the dry cleaner and grocer every day are back here telling us their deepest secrets. These people have hopes and dreams same as we all do. They squabble and worry think up big ideas too. And Ms Gilchrist understands this daily experience of what it means to be a human better than anyone. She has always been a brilliant and compassionate psychologist hiding inside her writer's coat. Her perceptive insights make me wince and grab hold of myself. The tender way she explores aging left me rereading and piling up her words around me like a fat bunch of pillows. Plus my old friends, the Hands, make another appearance and we get to check in on them and see that thankfully they are right where we left them---loving and bossing and living big juicy lives. It's been eight long years but this was worth waiting for. Acts of God is a beautiful little book. I am ever grateful she wrote it
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