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Drinking Coffee Elsewhere Paperback – February 3, 2004

4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An outstanding debut story collection, Z.Z. Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere has attracted as much book-world buzz as a triple espresso. Yet, surprisingly, there are no gimmicks in these eight stories. Their combination of tenderness, humor, and apt, unexpected detail set them apart. In the title story (published in the New Yorker's summer 2000 Debut Fiction issue), a Yale freshman is sent to a psychotherapist who tries to get her--black, bright, motherless, possibly lesbian--to stop "pretending," when she is sure that "pretending" is what got her this far. "Speaking in Tongues" describes the adventures of an Alabama church girl of 14 who takes a bus to Atlanta to try to find the mother who gave her up. Looking around the Montgomery Greyhound station, she wonders if it has changed much since the Reverend King's days. She "tried to imagine where the 'Colored' and 'Whites Only' signs would have hung, then realized she didn't have to. All five blacks waited in one area, all three whites in another." Packer's prose is wielded like a kitchen knife, so familiar to her hand that she could use it with her eyes shut. This is a debut not to miss. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The clear-voiced humanity of Packer's characters, mostly black teenage girls, resonates unforgettably through the eight stories of this accomplished debut collection. Several tales are set in black communities in the South and explore the identity crises of God-fearing, economically disenfranchised teens and young women. In the riveting "Speaking in Tongues," 14-year-old "church girl" Tia runs away from her overly strict aunt in rural Georgia in search of the mother she hasn't seen in years. She makes it to Atlanta, where, in her long ruffled skirt and obvious desperation, she seems an easy target for a smooth-talking pimp. The title story explores a Yale freshman's wrenching alienation as a black student who, in trying to cope with her new, radically unfamiliar surroundings and the death of her mother, isolates herself completely until another misfit, a white student, comes into her orbit. Other stories feature a young man's last-ditch effort to understand his unreliable father on a trip to the Million Man March and a young woman who sets off for Tokyo to make "a pile of money" and finds herself destitute, living in a house full of other unemployed gaijin. These stories never end neatly or easily. Packer knows how to keep the tone provocative and tense at the close of each tale, doing justice to the complexity and dignity of the characters and their difficult choices.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223786
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223782
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had previously read a few of ZZ Packer's stories in lit magazines such as ZOETROPE and The New Yorker and I have been anxiously awaiting this collection. I have not been disappointed.
"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" is a collection of unique, startling and at times, brutally truthful stories by Packer, a new author. All these stories, in some way, touch upon themes of alienation, the search for truth (whatever that truth is for the characters), of approval, and of identity. Stories range from the title piece, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere," about a young black woman who enters a ivy league university and must struggle not only with alienation and her identity but the death of her mother, to "Geese," a story about a sister who travels to Tokyo to make loads of money only to find herself destitute and in the company of people just as down and out as she is.
What I enjoy the most about these eight stories is that Packer tells stories about black people, but she does so multiculturally, or "realistically". The world isn't full of just black people or just white people. The worlds in Packer's stories travel the globe from Baltimore, to Yale University, to Tokyo. We see a vast array of people and places and situations, and Packer is not afraid to show us all these facets, nor is she afraid to show us the bleakness of reality. Her stories do not end with cotton candy and happily ever afters. Sometimes, life is hard, and Packer portrays these times exquisitely.
Anyone who is interested in reading well written stories about the facets of black life, will no doubt enjoy ZZ Packer's debut collection as much as I have.
Shon Bacon
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Format: Paperback
ZZ Packer's masterful stories deal with the crisis of belonging that many African-Americans face because, as individuals, people of all races, including their own, have monolithic expectations of them, which their individuality defies. Packer's characters break out of any kind of preconceived molds and faced with Groupthink, pressures to conform, and the patronization and condescension of liberal whites, these characters become infuriated by the stupidity that surrounds them. The style of the stories is intensely realistic, often satirical, bitter, nihilistic. At the same time Packer brings a deep humanity, complexity, and sympathy to her cast of misfits, all who search for belonging and never find it.
In "Brownies" African-American girls stir a brouhaha with a dubious charge of having heard a racial epithet uttered by the white Brownies. The story in many ways is a funny and disturbing exploration of Groupthink whereby the black Brownies never really heard the epithet but get caught up in the self-righteousness and mission of their revenge. In "Every Tongue Shall Confess" a cross-eyed, homely lady, Clareese, plays by the rules, reads her Bible, and works hard as a nurse, only to be exploited by her church deacons who use her as a door mat. We cringe as we watch Clareese sink deeper and deeper into loneliness. In "Our Lady of Peace" a young woman takes on teaching in a public school in order to change nihilistic, lawless high school children, but in a reversal, the children make her a nihilistic misanthropist. The teacher Lynnea Davis not only begins to despise the children, but the teachers she works with.
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By Sarah S. on March 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The New York Times used the word "superb" in describing this story collection, and it seems completely justified. ZZ Packer has a largeness of spirit, an intellectual curiosity and subtlety, and a flair for marvelous dialogue to go with her brilliant storytelling. I've clipped several of these stories from The New Yorker or Harper's, and am so happy to finally have them in book form. If I were going to think of the writer these stories remind me of most, it would be Chekhov, though ZZ Packer is actually too distinctive in style and subject matter to be compared to anyone else. But, like Chekhov's, these stories have a moral dimension which has nothing to do with primness and everything to do with a sense of the grave consequences of our decisions, even when we're trying to do our best. Also the experience of reading these is a little like that of reading Chekhov's stories; it is impossible to guess where you are going next -- the turns in each story are both surprising and, in retrospect, absolutely convincing.
These stories take huge risks, and they earn them. One question I hear a lot these days is, "what is this writer loyal to?" ZZ Packer is loyal to a deep, beautiful, sometimes painful honesty. She knows how human beings behave, and she lets us experience that knowledge, but, like Chekhov, she has too much generosity and wisdom to condemn the people she describes. She knows exactly how it is that we sometimes find ourselves so far from home, in more ways than one. How can these stories be so truthful and such a pleasure to read?
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