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How I Came West, and Why I Stayed Paperback – April 1, 1993


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books; 2nd edition (April 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811803244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811803243
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,294,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 13 stories, Baker delights in placing ordinary, plain-speaking characters in extraordinary circumstances. The bounty hunter of the title story tracks cheerleaders in the mountains of Montana: "What the manatee is to the naturalist in the mangrove swamp, what the race car is to the Hoosier, what the tornado is to the Kansan--that is what the cheerleader is to the Montanan. Cheerleaders are Possibility, they are Chance, they are Fate; they are beauty, and grace, and poetry." In other pieces, a white, Southern six-year-old describes her new classmates: black, Siamese twins joined at the heart; and on the eve of her death, "the world's foremost authority on the lesser flamingo" spends a last moment observing her beloved birds as they honk, express affection and boredom, spread their wings, scream, preen and groom. A child of white explorers/hunters in the Arctic, who lives in total isolation, recounts how she ate her parents' corpses after they died of starvation ("I never loved them more than when I carved the most nutritious portions . . . from their still-warm flesh"); and a scientist tries on makeup and imagines himself as a woman when a friend announces that he's changing his sex. Amusing and spirited, if underdeveloped, this debut shows promise.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A first collection of stories with great first lines, usually followed by fictions as light as air--some antic or absurd, others delicate or touching. The title piece is one of the best: a good-humored comedy about an Indiana girl out West, a sort of bounty hunter looking for cheerleaders in the mountains who've never been seen but ``were part of the mountain mythology.'' ``Better Be Ready 'Bout Half Past Eight'' is both hilarious and moving: `` `I'm changing sex,' Zach said.'' That first line starts off an absurd chain of events as seen through the eyes of Zach's best friend. Zach, who becomes Zoe, is finally forced to say, ``I think you're letting this come between us.'' Baker's tone, light but not frothy, is just right. But those two stories are the high points here; others are slick entertainments, albeit with sober undercurrents: ``The Spread of Peace'' (first line: ``If peace spreads, Heather may lose her job'') is about a weapons designer at the end of the cold war who's also faced with a lump in her breast; ``My Life in the Frozen North'' is a mock explorer-narrative told by a young woman, ``the child of explorers,'' who learns that ``The law of life in the Frozen North is Eat,'' and comes to realize, sadly, that her parents ``discovered nothing''; and ``Clearwater and Latissimus'' is the moving story of Siamese twins, told by a naive (and ``normal'') fellow student. Other pieces here are shapeless or cutesy, but the best are luminous with verbal play and intimations of how ordinary strangeness can be. (Some have appeared in Atlantic, the Best of the West, New Stories from the South and various lit mags.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on January 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Alison Baker is to the surprise beginning what O Henry was to the surprise ending. "Benny Sarver knows what's going on in the lab where they clone babies out of one-eyed frogs." "The summer is so hot there's a spontaneous human combustion on the South Side." The stories that follow are eccentric, ironic, minimalist tales, which basically involve two pairs of human partners or a human couple and animals. The animals include bears, flamingos, deer, African bullfrogs and even dogs. The people are cowboys, ornithologists, Mormons, biochemists, gymnasts and cheerleaders. Quite delightful. One quibble is about the representation of Indian English. I am knowing many Indian doctors and and never I am hearing the continuous present. I am thinking this is how Americans are thinking Indians are talking.
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Format: Paperback
An author for both readers and writers.

For readers and writers both, Alison Baker's imaginative short story collection of classic literary humor will make you laugh so hard you'll cry and cry so hard you'll laugh--at yourself--for being so moved by her quirky "living" characters and the situations they find themselves in. You may still feel yourself in a trance after you've closed the book. In fact, readers might find themselves looking for Baker's "people" in their neighborhood grocery store, movie house, or while on a vacation spurred by wanting to check the veracity of Baker's details. Some readers will wish they could have a conversation with their favorite characters, maybe ask a question or two, and many readers will have fallen in love with one or more "fictional" people and not want the stories to end. Observant writers will notice that one reason these stories come to life is that Baker is a master of switchback time, defined by Joan Silber (The Art of Time in Fiction) as a melding of past, present, and future into the deepest fabric of the story so that all elements of time are given equal weight. When reading Baker's stories, we feel as if the door that allows us to eavesdrop on the hidden secrets of ongoing lives has been opened for us to step inside, and, as we yearn to learn more, relevant details from the past and future are revealed. Baker combines the realism of Alice Munro and the humor of Kurt Vonnegut, giving writers many lessons on how to achieve a more sophisticated level of storytelling.
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Format: Paperback
Baker writes beautiful, entertaining stories. Though there are highs and lows throughout this book, each story was thought provoking and amusing. You can't get too comfortable (read: bored) while reading these stories- Baker always keeps you wondering where she will take her characters next. Great beginnings of the stories help catch your attention, and the ride through the rest of the story until you reach the end where everything comes together is a fun one you won't soon forget. This collection of short stories is definately worth a read.
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By T. Bellows on June 1, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful read! Let me add that "Margaret Mead" is absolutely hilarious. I almost split a gut reading it to my wife. Baker gets the language just right, so we can feel the character in the chosen words! This one story makes this a must-have book, but many stories here are daring, joyful, and stimulating. (Just a suggestion: To understand the story on page 93 a bit better, read The Flute of God by Paul Twitchell - or one of the books by Harold Klemp.)
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