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Drowning Lessons Hardcover – October 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The stories in Selgin's often masterful debut collection (winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction) focus on faulty passions and dysfunctional romances. The most wickedly satisfying is My Search for Red and Gray Wide-Striped Pajamas, describing the affair between Steven, a poor second-generation Greek immigrant, and his pudgy first cousin Marcia. Steven squirrels away the cash his wily Uncle Nick provides in exchange for wooing Marcia but instead of the requisite wining and dining, Steven takes her virginity, followed by repeated dates on the Staten Island Ferry. In another vein, Selgin explores the idea of woman as woeful mirage. In Color of the Sea, Karina, an enticing Brazilian tourist, goes on a road trip through Crete with the narrator. But Karina, like a glammed up Helen of Troy, leaves our increasingly disillusioned protagonist with nothing but frustration and a bruised heart. Less original, and far less engrossing, are Selgin's depictions of brotherly relations and male camaraderie (The Wolf House, Boy B). Here, his voice is whiny and sophomoric, starkly at odds with the poignant, evocative prose of the other stories. (Oct. 15)
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From Booklist

In Selgin’s 13 stories, soul-searching artists, lonely bachelors, and suicidal retirees drift or swerve toward meaning—or the lack thereof. A failed shoe salesman and aspiring painter chauffeurs a manic Pablo Picasso in a ’37 Fiat Topolino from Hollywood to the Colombian Andes. En route these two swim laps in a hotel pool, dance the salsa at the Mexican border, and save a sulking young girl from a man they imagine to be her captor. In “Sawdust,” a high-school boy spends a summer sanding floors and drinking beef bouillon with his boss while grieving the departure of his high-school English teacher, a man with whom he developed a relationship too close for the school administration’s comfort. Selgin’s mostly male characters are often self-obsessed and at times downright deplorable, but the intricacies of their plights are largely surprising. Although Selgin’s use of violence and the imperviousness of his characters sometimes jeopardize the intimacy between reader and writer, his ability to sling together desire and suffering in complex and moving ways is singular and memorable. --Heather Dewar
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; First Edition edition (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820332100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820332109
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,005,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Selgin won the 2007 Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction (Drowning Lessons, UGA Press, 2008), and the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Prize for Best Novel-in-Manuscript (The Water Master). His first novel, Life Goes to the Movies, was a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and the AWP Award for the Novel, and was named one of the Best Books of 2009 by ForeWord Magazine.

His most recent book, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist's Memoir, was published by the University of Iowa Press/Sightline Books. He is also the author of two books on writing craft, By Cunning & Craft: Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, and 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers (both from Writers Digest Books), as well as several books for children. He is a faculty member of Antioch University's MFA writing program and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University, where he teaches in their MFA Program.

Before turning full-time to writing, Peter earned his living as a visual artist and illustrator, with work appearing in The New Yorker, Gourmet, The Wall Street Journal, Outside, Fine Gardening, and other magazines. His paintings of the Titanic were the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal and on NPR and Fox's Good Morning, America. His plays, including A God in the House, based on Dr. Kevorkian and his suicide machine, have won national competitions. He was a three-time finalist for the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Conference, where A God in the House had its world premiere.

Peter's hobbies include swimming in all seasons in almost any body of water (lakes being preferable), and writing or sketching at sunny outdoor cafe tables (preferable in Venice or on the Mediterranean coast).

Website: http://www.peterselgin.com

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. B. Smith on January 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Peter Selgin's wonderful collection of short stories demonstrates an unusual consistency of theme--not a superimposed or artificial consistency, but an instinctual one. Water is the theme here, and while the theme alludes to life, it also alludes to desire: that semi-conscious realm of wanting, over which no man or woman has control. The magic of this articulate collection is that it manages to define desire as a non-articulate force in the protagonists' lives--a force both gravitational and repulsive. They live willfully, we might say of Selgin's characters, but at the mercy of the tides. "Now I see why I love cartoons," says the narrator of "Driving Picasso": "they give us the world minus gravity and suffering, a world of primary hues, unambiguous outlines, unbridled possibilities, without weight, subtext, or sophistication." Dream on, the reader wants to say. Weight, subtext, and sophistication infuse this stunning collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Perry Brass on November 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Several of the short stories in this collection are so masterful that they should be included in those anthologies of "Best Short Fiction of Whatever Year" and "Best Humorous Fiction of Whatever Year," and I would also add "Best Travel Writing of" --anyway, you get the idea. Selgin can be hilarious and is a wonderful writer of place; his stories set in Greece, Mexico, and even rural, hard-scrapple Connecticut really evoke their individual settings. As I was reading "Drowning Lessons," I kept thinking, "This is going to be my favorite story," then I'd change my mind and find another one, but two stories that really clung to me were "Sawdust," about a boy and his puzzling attachment to an older teacher, and "Boy B," a really shredding story about the bitter, intense love of a very competitive identical twin relationship. In all his stories, Selgin has an almost vaudevillian ability to do turn-on-a-dime changes in mood, voice, and feeling; he can go from bitter and sarcastic to lushly emotional and romantic in one sentence: this gives him a very singular voice, completely apart from the usual canned fluff of easily palatable commercial literature, where every line reads like it's come out of a Dairy Queen machine. There are times though when I wish some of the stories had gripped me more, stayed closer to the conflicts in them, or presented themselves with harder, less flinching situations. But the stories that I did like, and there were a number of them, like "The Girl in the Story" (a masterful, amazing tale set in Connecticut--and one of my "favorite" contenders); "The Sea Cure," deliciously scary and mean; and "The Sinking Ship Man," about the cult of big-time disasters (I won't spoil the plot by saying what famous disaster but Celine Dion warbles in it) and aging--still stick in my mind, and I think they will stick in yours for a very long time to come.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Katinka Neuhof on December 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Peter Selgin's collection of short stories, "Drowning Lessons," is a seamlessly crafted, deeply affecting swim in waters that are at once welcoming, redemptive and dangerous. The author dives confidently into the minds of ordinary men, all of whom are trying desperately to connect to the people in thir lives or the strangers they come upon. The first story aptly named 'Swimming' finds an old man(a strong swimmer) imagining a last chance at love with a much younger woman whom he meets at favorite place to swim. While he dreams of what might be, he's left to grapple with the reality of his real life, his wife who has long since lost interest in him.She can't swim worth a damn. At the center of each story, 'El Malecon' for example is a moment wherein, lonely yet always proud characters must face the truth of who they are even if that happens in the last moments of their lives. We readers become witnesses to these painfully human, often funny moments. Like it or not there's isn't one among us who might not secretly identify with these characters' struggles which makes them compulsive, delicious reading. Did I mention that there's plenty of lust and humor too? Don't be afraid to take a deep breath and test these waters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cortney Davis on October 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a great read---the stories are so alive that I felt as if I might put the book down and find myself face to face with the characters themselves, alive in front of me, all of them vibrant, real and believable. It was a pleasure for me to find that these stories lived up to the promise of the recognition given them, the Flannery O'Connor Award; these stories are sophisticated, intelligent and totally entertaining. Best of all, I found myself liking these characters tremendously. Although all the stories are different and all the characters unique, there is an energy to this book that never flags, first story to last. If you're a short story writer, this collection is one to read and ponder---this author knows how to turn a phrase and hook a reader. (He also has a great craft book out, "By Cunning and Craft," one that I use all the time in teaching writing workshops.) Highly recommended!
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