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Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self Hardcover – September 23, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The territory Evans covers in her debut collection may be small, but she owns it. Her main characters are almost all teen girls and young women who struggle with disorder, and the reader is given close access to each one's interior, from which the muted plots originate. "Jellyfish," one of the better stories, starts out with the plight of middle-aged William, whose roof has just collapsed, before settling on his adult daughter, Eva, and examining her life. The two friends in "Virgins," the opening and best story, maneuver unsteadily through the minefield of casually predatory men and boys. "Snakes" looks back on a consequential summer in the lives of two little girls. "The King of a Vast Empire" is the biggest departure from form and is narrated by good son Terrence, who frustratedly tells the story of his free-spirited sister, Liddie. The stories are beautifully observed, though their similarities in theme and voice make them better read individually than together. Evans has some great chops that would really shine with a little more narrative breadth.
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From Booklist

Evans’ first collection of short stories deals thoughtfully and incisively with considerations of class, race, and coming-of-age. That six of the stories are told in their female or male protagonists’ first-person voices brings them immediacy and emotional resonance. Sometimes, though, this device results in narrative voices that sound too much alike while the stories they tell lack thematic originality. Interestingly, two of the best stories—“Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go,” about a deeply troubled veteran of the Iraq War, and “Jellyfish,” about the fraught relationship of a young woman and her father—are told in third person. Yet, whether told in first or third person, what all of the stories share is a demonstration of the profound influence of the past on the present-day lives of their characters and the intricacies of relationships among African American, white, Hispanic, and mixed-race young people. Clearly, Evans lives up to her reputation as an important new voice in literary fiction. --Michael Cart

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (September 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487693
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487699
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #896,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Danielle Evans' work has appeared in magazines including The Paris Review, A Public Space, Callaloo, and Phoebe, has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, and is forthcoming in New Stories from the South and the Best American Short Stories 2010. She received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop, was a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and is now teaching fiction at American University in Washington DC.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There are some collections of short stories that read as if they're all the same character, and they're only called "short stories" to keep the author from having to tie the chapters together logically. There are other collections with one story that packs a punch and a bunch of others that miss the mark. And then there are collections in which every single story is new, fresh and self-contained.

BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF is the third type. Each of the eight stories in Danielle Evans's debut collection is completely unique. What's more, each features characters and situations that are so real and true to life that I almost felt as if I was a part of them.

The first story, "Virgins," features two teenagers discovering what it means to be women earlier than perhaps they should. Originally published in The Paris Review, it may appear to be the average story of a young girl getting into a tough scrape, but what's different about it is the intelligent voice. Erica, the narrator, has a wisdom that she doesn't know she possesses and begins to discover it throughout the story.

"Snakes" is a discussion of family, the biracial experience, and the process of growing up. There is some part of the story for any reader to identify with, regardless of what personal qualities he or she shares with the narrator. It takes shocking turns and plays with race perception; when we are first introduced to the narrator's grandmother, knowing whether she is white or black requires a double-take. Evans's ability to play with the nuances of race in "Snakes" and other stories is reminiscent of Toni Morrison's treatment of the issue in "Recitatif."

"Harvest" is unexpected, although it shouldn't be.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By DAC VINE VOICE on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
This is collection of 8 short stories is Evans fictional debut. Now if you are thinking to yourself "I don't like short stories" this book isn't for me. Trust me when I say, you're wrong. I haven't always liked short stories. A few years back I finally read a collection that made me appreciate them. Before that I was reading incomplete short stories, with endings that left me far from satisfied.

These stories are short, though very far from incomplete. With most collections there is always one story that is not up to the standard of the others. That was not the case here, I loved every single story. Evans manages to make what could easily be sad stories very funny. Between the laughter, I was moved by these quietly complex and beautifully layered stories.

The dialogue and language are perfect. The characters fully developed. Like all good short stories, there is no excess, every word count. I loved each story from beginning to end.

Evans pretty much crushed this collection. Her transitions to move the stories along were clinic good. I always try to keep my vernacular proper. So when I start straying from the true Webster definition that means I loved a book hard.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J.C. Wallington on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like many of the other reviewers, I am not particulary fond of short stories., therefore I almost missed the opportunity to read this well-written and interesting book of short stories by Danielle Evans. Ms Evans debunked my theroy that short stories are often times incomplete and leaves the reader yearning for closure and/or clear message.. In Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (gotta love the title), the stories are entertaining and unique in that the stories are independent and did not seem to all belong to one novel.

My favorite stories were Virgins, the coming of age story of Erica and Jasmine. In their 15th summer, a difference in how their virginity is viewed separates the pair. Snakes, a story of a young girl who spends the summer with her grandmother and cousin. This summer arrangement proves to be a diffiuclt one and perhaps an arrangement that should not have happened. Finally, Robert E Lee is Dead, the class nerd and the most popular girl becomes best friends. Is it loyality or gratitude that keeps this friendship going? Does one have to dumb themself down to maintain a friendship? How far do you go for a friend?

I think Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is a good book to pick up. I only named thre of the stories, but there are 5 others that may pique your interest.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Excellent short story collection -- winsome, ironic, compassionately caustic coming-of-age stories, mostly told from the perspective of young women in late adolescence. Yet Danielle Evans shows that she can adopt other points of view as well, even maintaining them in a tense balance as, for example, in "Jellyfish," the final story in the book, which alternates between the voice of a father and his young adult daughter. This arrangement provides the perfect diptych to explore the fantasies of love and fulfillment that both father and daughter entertain, fantasies that are doomed to poignant failure because of the awkwardnesses of timing that always exist across generations.

My favorite story in the collection is "The King of a Vast Empire," despite the fact that its somewhat improbable plot rests on a coincidence of name that stretches credibility (as in fact the characters recognize). Again, Evans experiments with voice, this time adopting the voice of the young female protagonist's older brother. This time, though, the story embodies a tense optimism about the possibility that family love can provide a respite from loneliness.

"Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self" also marks an intervention in ethnic fiction. Evans is an African American writer many of whose characters are African American, but while she precisely and believably documents some of the features of Middle Class Mid Atlantic ethnic life, her characters possess a translucent universality that neither denies the particularity of their experience nor insists upon it. She brings a lightness to every event she relates.

These are not optimistic stories, for the most part. But their humor and intelligence lend them a buoyancy that weighs against their sadness. Evan also is a very fine storyteller. A quirky winning new voice in fiction.
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