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Equal Love: Stories Paperback – January, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A collection need yield only one really great story to be, itself, great, and Peter Ho Davies's Equal Love offers such a story--the deceptively low-key "Cakes of Baby." A couple--he's Indian, she's white--spend Thanksgiving with the wife's family. Nothing much happens. The husband, Sam, plays with a toddler, the wife, Laura, argues with her sister. But Davies uses the short-story writer's most hackneyed milieu--the holiday get-together--to tell a thoroughly fresh tale about class. A family can encompass both good and bad luck, as the author telegraphs neatly in this quick interchange:
Later, as the wine moves round the table, Nick starts up on the market. How they should all get in on it. How there's easy money to be made. "It's our middle-class duty, all right," Phil says, laughing, but Suzy says she's not middle-class. She's a waitress, she says, looking around the table. Derek's a mechanic. He nods. How's that middle-class? "While your Uncle Phil is digesting that foot in his mouth..." Marilyn starts, and Laura tries to help by adding that being middle-class isn't just about income.
This is a story preoccupied with how people love each other, and also with money--two subjects that bump up against each other a lot in real life but seldom in the workshoppy kind of fiction Davies specializes in.

Davies (The Ugliest House in the World) has been celebrated, anthologized, presented with the O. Henry Award, and he certainly does the thing he does--the production of ambiguous feeling in the reader--very, very well. Many of his characters are academics, but they could just as well be butchers or yardmen; they do plain old human stuff--consider having affairs, fight with their parents, raise their kids. In fact, his second collection comes off as almost anti-intellectual, so devoid is it of literary game-playing. The only foray into formal play, "How to Be an Expatriate," derives directly from Lorrie Moore's stories in the imperative voice in her 1985 collection, Self-Help. But Davies eschews her bitter wit in favor of remorsefulness: "Look at old photos. Reread letters. Wish you'd kept a diary. Think, you chose this. You're an expatriate, not an exile. It's what you always wanted." Here is a writer who takes feelings seriously, whose risks are emotional and never formal. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

In his second collection (after The Ugliest House in the World) Davies again proves himself an acute cultural observer and facile prose stylist. Whether set in his native England or in America (where he now lives), his stories use resonant, precise images to pave the way to intimate truths. In "The Hull Case," a mixed-race couple reports being abducted by aliens. For Henry Hull, however, who's already "had to work hard to be believed most of his life," the project of reporting the alien encounter to an air force colonel becomes symbolic of the complex anxieties he, as a black man, suffers in his marriage to a white woman. In "The Next Life," a Chinese-American man arranges a traditional funeral for his father, a prominent businessman. He gains a fuller understanding of himself as he watches the ritual of burning paper houses, cars and money, and listens to the hired mourners. The punchy "How to Be an Expatriate" captures the excitement and disorientation of starting a life in a new country. Written in the second person, it shows how shifts in language mark changes of a more significant, emotional kind: "Your mother sends you a Manchester United shirt, which you put in your closet. Which you used to call a wardrobe. Write articles about Britain and the British. Say you had to leave to really understand your home." Dislocation is a common theme, as in "Small World," where a man named Wilson returns to the Boston neighborhood where he grew up, finding the landscape both altered and seductively familiar. Striking combinations of disappointment and pleasure, alienation and belonging, longing and ambivalence occur in each of the 12 entries here, unifying the collection with Davies's compassionate voice, sure craftsmanship and complex vision. Agent, Witherspoon Associates. Author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Stories from Equal Love have appeared in Harper's, the Atlantic, Ploughshares and the Gettysburg Review.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 178 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Edition edition (January 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618006990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618006991
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,278,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
You know, I've noticed that people who write reviews on here either go overboard with their praise, or they pan the book. Well not here.
Folks, let me say this about Equal Love: it's pretty good. There is accomplished prose throughout, several very good stories, one or two excellent stories and a couple average ones.

For the most part, I enjoyed Mr. Davies voice and although I will not pronounce this a five star work of brilliance, I will be looking forward to more of his work.
Overall, a solid and worthy effort.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Peter Davies' stories cleanly strike the shifting ground notes-- sometimes discordant, sometimes rapturous-- that resonate at the core of human relationships. "How to be an Expatriate" is as deft a portrait of the "inter-continental lost soul" as the best of Pico Iyer's writing; like an archaeologist hoarding potsherds adorned with runes from a long-forgotten language, the narrator of "Today is Sunday" clutches at those scant moments that cast reliable light into the shadowed corners of the love between parents and their children; and the hapless, feckless lovers in "Equal Love" catch the clearer vision of themselves not from the detached perspective commended by the ideas of commitment or obligation but from the reflection of their folly that they find in a glimpse of their children's adolescent gropings for affection. Many writers of contemporary fiction prize structure and disdain content in their efforts to lay hold of the character of our particular cultural moment. This strategy lets slip by some of the finer, richer insights that Davies' net captures for us.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on July 21, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Peter Ho Davies has put together a fabulous short story collection. It is a collection though, that hangs together with the unified strength of a novel. Each story has strenghths of its own, but the effect of them as a group is even stronger. These are contemporary stories, each one of them different, with different kinds of characters, but they are all about love. Davies focuses mainly on the love between parents and children. He questions--Can the love between a parent and a child possibly be equal love? These stories will stay with you long after you read them. They are wonderful. I highly recommend Equal Love.
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