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Living to Tell: A Novel Paperback – June 5, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition (June 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743200608
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200608
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,340,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers familiar with Nelson's previous two novels and three collections of short fiction will be pleased to find her abundant gifts on display in this ambitious new novel: her wild wit, piercing insight and fearless candor. In richly detailed scenes, full of a rueful fondness for its hapless characters, the narrative plunges into a year in the life of the Mabie family: parents, three adult children and two grandchildren, all of them living under one roof. The narrative opens the day the Mabies' middle son, 33-year-old Winston, returns to his family home in Wichita, Kans., after a five-year stint in state prison for manslaughter. Although Winston and his adjustment to civilian life appear at first to be the novel's subject, whatever his turmoil (and little of it is narrated), the troubles of the rest of the family overwhelm it. While Winston was away, his older sister, Emily, divorced her substance-abusing husband and moved back home with her children; his younger sister, Mona, attempted suicide after a failed affair with a married man; Professor Mabie retired; and Mrs. Mabie began to lose her sight. With the perspective shifting from character to character, the novel follows each of their trials. Professor Mabie watches as Betty Spitz, his best friend and soulmate, dies of cancer. Mona finds herself dumped by another married man, and Emily, the competent mother and business woman, faces a grim and unexpected illness. Add to that a robbery, an abortion, a fire and a dognapping: this is not an uneventful book. Throughout, Winston remains in the background, quietly taking care. His acts often go unnoticed, and the family, especially the father, misread his character. But Nelson roots her characters so solidly in the particulars of their times and lives that the reasons for their actions and misunderstandings are poignantly clear; in particular, she captures with sharp insight the resentful devotion of siblings. The relationship between Mona and Emily is especially powerful, and the gift Emily gives Mona at the novel's end is a simple, heartbreaking lifesaver. One question may remain after the final page: how does Nelson manage to be so funny, so tenderly scathing and so wise? 7-city author tour. (June) FYI: Nelson has received the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Award, the Flannery O'Connor Award and the PEN/Nelson Algren Award.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Winston Mabie is coming home after spending five years in prison for killing his grandmother in a drunk driving accident. The family home is in Wichita, KS, where his two grown sisters, Emily and Mona, still live. Emily, the oldest sibling, has two master's degrees and her own business but hasn't been as lucky in love; she is also the divorced mother of two toddlers. Mona, the youngest, who still lives at home, wants to be as competent as Emily or as good looking as Winston but can't quite shake the feeling that she is the third wheel in the family. Their father is a retired history professor and caretaker of this brood; he and his wife like having their children and grandchildren at home because it makes them feel less lonely. This is a quirky tale of an eccentric family. The year following Winston's homecoming is an interesting look at a family that faces and copes with everything from depression, divorce, and drug use to unwanted pregnancy, cancer, death, and blind dates. Some of the characters are more fully realized than others, but one gets the sense of a family that really cares for one another despite life's adversities. Recommended for most public libraries.DRobin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Antonya Nelson is the author of seven short story collections and four novels. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program. Her awards include the Rea Award for Short Fiction, Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, and an American Artists Award. She lives in Telluride, Colorado, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Houston, Texas.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 12, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Long regarded in literary circles as one of America's finest writers, Antonya Nelson has yet to find a wider audience. I suspect LIVING TO TELL will change all this. Winston Mabie returns to his rambling childhood home in Wichita, Kansas after serving five years in prison for the drunk driving accident that killed his grandmother. Always charming and handsome, Winston has become the Mabie family's shame, the one they don't know what to do with, the "alcoholic" of the family even as his siblings, parents, and uncle seek their solace and comraderie through booze. As the Mabies adjust to Winston's return and the changes he represents, they begin to question the direction of their own lives. Nelson has populated her novel with quirky, complex, and decidedly real characters who struggle with their separate, often private dramas and who always return to the shifting terrain of those who have known them the longest. Her prose is clear and detailed, never sentimental or heavy-handed, and it carries this story forward with a surety that is remarkable. Especially if you enjoy Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman (without the magic realism), you'll love this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
This novel begins with a revelation: a young man has caused his grandmother's death in a drunk driving accident and is now returning home, after his incarceration, to a dysfunctional family that lives mostly under one roof, much like a benign patriarchy. The Mabies, Professor and Mrs., own a huge, rambling home large enough for all their grown children to reside comfortably, enabling each to pursue their interests, including romance, drugs and/or alcohol. It should be noted that the Mabies don't feel dysfunctional; their disagreements are few, and their ways familiar.
The divorced Emily inhabits the upstairs apartment with her two children. Mona lives in the main part of the house, having retreated to the safety of family after a suicide attempt over a broken relationship; the brother returning from jail adds to the curious mix. This family unit, along with assorted relatives and friends, work out their domestic complications with open-hearted kindness. When one of them becomes seriously ill, rather than destroying the family, they find a unity based on the value of everyday life.
I would like to see some of the more wordy passages shortened, but this author writes very believable dialog. Her characters, particularly the siblings, are defined by their loving natures and generosity towards eachother. As families go, this one is "functioning dysfunctional", able to avoid the more serious damage that usually affects this condition.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on October 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've been a fan of Antonya Nelson's for about ten years. It's no
surprise to me she's earned the Flannery O'Connor and PEN/Nelson
Algren awards. Like O'Conner before her, Nelson writes stories filled
with the offbeat, dysfunctional, and neurotic (the DSM III made the
term neurotic passe, but what else is there? ). And, like O'Connor,
Nelson has a finely tuned ear for dialogue, which she uses effectively
to portray the psychological makeup of her characters.
I can
understand why some people might find this book offputting. People who
grew up in relatively normal healthy homes where alcoholism and it's
attendent dysfunctional behavior weren't the norm might not believe
folks like the Mabies exist. But, they do.
Scott Fitzgerald had an
alcohol problem and a wife Zelda some called zany and others called
crazy. He wrote about "3:00 o'clock in the morning of the
long night of the soul." I think of him on those nights when I
wake up and the clock beside my bed says 2:46 a.m. I think about him
when I stumble down the stairs past the night lights placed at
critical junctures between my bedroom and the kitchen. I think about
him when I switch on the light and pick up a book to read.
sometimes I think about Benjamin Franklin, who said if you can't sleep
at night, get up, walk around and flap your arms a bit. Or maybe I
think about my brother who has suffered from an alcohol and drug
problem ever since he dropped out as a flower child in the sixties. Or,
maybe I think about other relatives and friends who've OD'd, died by
their own hand, or been in bizarre accidents while under the influence.
Read more ›
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
First let it be said that I adore Nelson's short stories. She consistently has stories in the Best American collections and they are always the ones I turn to first. United Front, a short story she has in I believe last years edition is easily my favorite of the lot. I started reading her short stories in college at U of A where she got her MFA and have loved her since then. This novel though, seemed tedious, drawn out and at times just plain boring. The characters themselves, though somewhat interesting aren't given enough space. Instead of one point of view she switches around, so I was never really sure who I was supposed to identify with. Also the jacket of the book leads us to believe this is a novel about the brother, when in fact in meanders all over the place. It's one big disfunctional family, which isn't interesting enough to hold my interest. There were times when the writing was wonderful, but the characters and all their whining got to be annoying. A bunch of loser kids, a mother with her head in the sand a father who hides out in the study should equal some sortof huge conflict that never really happens. There are all these little conflicts that never seem to go anywhere. I found myself scanning the last couple chapters but was bored bored bored.
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