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Gryphon: New and Selected Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Baxter's skill with short fiction is confirmed in this stellar collection of 23 stories, seven of which are new. The title story is deservedly a classic, and other favorites, such as "Fenstad's Mother," have gathered resonance as well, and the new stories show Baxter working a quirky beat. In each, the acutely observed real world is rocked by the exotic or surreal. In "Poor Devil," the "devils" are a self-destructive couple headed for a divorce, while, in "Ghosts," a stranger enters a young woman's house and tells her they are soul mates. She accuses him of being a devil, but his intentions are much less sinister than she imagines. "Nightfall had always brought his devils out," the narrator says in "The Old Murderer," a touching story about an alcoholic and an ex-con, each trying to get through the day. In "Royal Blue," arguably the best of the new stories, an undertow of mystery shadows a handsome young art dealer who understands that 9/11 has affected a fundamental change in his life. In Baxter's comic-melancholic world, people may be incapable of averting sadness or violence, but they survive. (Jan.) (c)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

With one notable exception, the critics labeled Baxter a “writer’s writer” (Los Angeles Times) whose finely honed powers of observation and expert manipulation of his reader are well suited to short fiction. He skillfully distills his stories down to small but revealing moments of self-awareness, plumbing universal themes of love, duty, and “the rewards of plain everyday life.” The critics noted a peculiar apathy that afflicts many of his characters and an unsettling lack of resolution to his story lines. Nevertheless, most judged the stories worthwhile for Baxter’s elegant prose and astute characterizations. By turns uplifting and bleak, comic and heartbreaking, this new collection by “a master of the form” (Minneapolis Star Tribune) should entertain readers who prefer technique to theatrics.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379214
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after it was mentioned in Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection (a book worth reading in its own right). "Gryphon" was included in "The Reading List for Life" section at the back of the Coles book. It definitely deserves to be on any list where readers want books which illuminate both individual experiences and also contain very believable stories, ones which reveal the challenges of living in the world. The stories are multi-faceted and worth savoring. They'll challenge your typical view of the world. The volume also contains 7 new stories, a treat for fans of Baxter.

Also included are Baxter's rich and insightful poems, many of them focusing on his own struggles with alcohol. Nonfiction essays as well as the fiction noted above work to create a very satisfying volume.

Since time and place are an essential part of many short stories, it is worth noting that Baxter's work primarily centers on the Midwestern experience. Baxter describes the characters who inhabit his Midwest in stark detail and in plain prose. The area is often noted as being boring and the characters in each story frequently seem tired or numbed - but look beyond the surface of the author's words to find the beauty of his prose and the reality behind the sentences.

The title story is particularly compelling, focusing on a teacher who is willing to reach beyond the often polite and quiet aspects of typical Midwestern citizens (seen through the eyes of one of her students). She is far more emotional than many of those around her.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By S. F Gulvezan on January 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Charles Baxter is perhaps best known to the general public for his fine novel, THE FEAST OF LOVE, but over the last 30 years he has also produced an impressive body of work in that most difficult medium, the short story, and 23 of Mr. Baxter's selected stories from over that span of time are collected herein. The delicate music of "Harmony of the World," the riveting "Winter's Journey," and the penetrating, previously uncollected story, "Royal Blue," are all examples of the storyteller's craft. Mr. Baxter has received the praise of a host of critics and readers alike, and this volume is a testament to the astuteness of their opinions.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the hilarious LUCKY JIM, Kingsley Amis comes close to the perfect description of a hangover. "A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse... His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a secret cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad."

I reference Amis because Charles Baxter adds meaningfully to the literature of intoxication in two stories in the excellent GRYPHON: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES. In particular, "Winter Journey" shows the sozzled Harrelson, a perpetual Ph.D. student, driving in a night-time snowstorm to pick up his weather-marooned fiancé. "He is seeing two of everything: two sets of streetlights, two streets, two steering wheels, two dashboards. And two red lights, both of which he now runs, unable and unwilling to stop the car before entering the intersection. With scholarly interest he observes that he has missed hitting a blue parked car by perhaps two or three feet. For the first time he understands that it might be a moral offense against God and man to be out driving in a snowstorm, drunk. But it is more of an offense before women to be a nerd, a coward, a man who will not help. He accelerates."

Meanwhile, "The Old Murderer" presents Ellickson, who has been sober for "forty-three and a half days, but he still had the shakes. Just filling the coffeepot required maximum concentration... Everything, even the drinking of tap water, called for discipline and tenacity... All day Ellickson endured. The sun rattled violently in the sky. After the passing hours had presented their trials by fire and ice, he would go to bed feeling that his skin was layered with sandpaper.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rosebud Book Reviews on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Are you like me when you have a new anthology or collection of short stories in hand, you read the first and the last thinking they are probably the best? I loved Baxter's Believers, and was disappointed by his lose-structured novel, Feast of Love, so I thought, on which side of the approval meter will Gryphon register. The needle is off the dial to the right. This is like discovering Raymond Carver you haven't read. It is, literally, life changing. Some of the stories have appeared before, but this collection begins gradually and hits its stride with "Harmony of the World." From then on we are in the writer's hands.

There are three things I have to say about these stories. First, and least, is their Midwestern settings. There always seems to be a subtle metaphoric meaning to them that complements the theme. Second, Baxter takes on subjects that satisfy our curiosity: what would it be like to suddenly have a handgun or have a crazy grade-school substitute teacher or be a foreigner who finds himself in a large American city picking up a woman. Third, the endings seem anti-climactic, but right. And some of them, such as the ones for "Kiss Away" and "Shelter" are haunting in a way that stays with you long after the details of the story are forgotten. In fact: Warning, these stories will be remembered by the reader, not as stories, but as his or her own life experiences.

When they say the short story is dead, people are thinking of the Hemingway or the Faulkner they read in college. Life and literature has moved on. The Midwest has nothing, nothing, to be ashamed of when compared to the East and West Coasts. In fact, isn't that part of our charm. We sneak up on you with our lack of pretension. And then...short stories (Baxter's in particular) jolt life into sharp focus. Read Gryphon. It is today's masterpiece.

- John Lehman, Rosebud Book
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