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Nice Big American Baby Paperback – February 14, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726866
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Budnitz (Flying Leap; If I Told You Once) creates her own hybrid brand of stark, dystopian reality in this impressive collection, working an odd jumble of fantastical, historical and contemporary detail into stories that comment obliquely on the current state of human affairs. In "Where We Come From," a pregnant woman desperate to have her baby in America goes to great lengths to cross the border, waiting for years to give birth until her son "fills her completely, his arms fill her arms, his legs fill her legs." In "The Kindest Cut," the narrator discovers an old journal written by a surgeon during a war: blue and gray uniforms and a doctor's surgical techniques suggest the American Civil War, but the story takes a fantastical twist as the surgeon become obsessed with severed limbs. In the disturbing and seemingly futuristic world of "Sales," door-to-door salesmen are rounded up and kept in an unlocked pen from which they choose not to escape. Funny and sad at once, it's a kind of twisted love story in which a young woman's attempts to help are rejected: "The salesmen don't know that I am trying to help them, they yell at me that I'm ruining business, standing in the way of normal commerce. The customer is always right! they scream." Budnitz's first-person narrators are pitch perfect, helping the reader to see from their perspectives, no matter how odd it might be. These bizarre and masterfully crafted stories will thrill readers of literary fiction who hunger for an innovative American voice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Budnitz's stark, sardonic short stories are structured like grim fairy tales and tilt toward the grotesque and the macabre. Author of A Flying Leap (1998) and If I Told You Once (1999), Budnitz, edgy and inventive, works in broad strokes to capture the trickle-down consequences of dictatorship, war, poverty, and environmental destruction. In "Sales," hapless traveling salesmen are penned like cattle while surfers in gas masks ride the waves of huge dust storms. In "Motherland," women and children live in limbo, forgotten by men at war. In "Saving Face," an artist is asked to refurbish the ubiquitous icon of a dictator. Budnitz is especially devastating in her more intimate tales, including the title story, in which a pregnant woman determined to cross the border to give birth to a "nice big American baby" carries her child far beyond term. At her best, Budnitz achieves the brilliant creepiness and frisson of Shirley Jackson; and in all her stories, her deadpan tone perfectly embodies the dehumanizing situations she so imaginatively and daringly dramatizes. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I really like the way Judy Budnitz writes.
Jeremy S. Burnich
I can strongly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more of Budnitz's work.
dephal
What is also undeniable is how truly skilled Ms. Budnitz is with language.
Peter Rosen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By dephal VINE VOICE on April 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best collections of short stories I've read in a while. The settings and themes vary, but each has at least some element of magical realism. Many of them are creepy, not in a blood-and-guts horrorshow kind of way, but more in a strange, unsettling way. Many of them are sad; "Elephant and Boy" especially touched me. But there is also quite a bit of sly humor, as in "Sales," in which traveling salesmen in some future time are captured by a family and kept penned, and still continue their salesmen-like ways. One of my favorite stories in this volume was "Preparedness," an ultimately rather hopeful tale featuring a world leader who seems quite familiar.

Budnitz writes beautifully. Her writing is filled with interesting images, and yet she never forgets her characters and plots. These stories are rich but not dense. I can strongly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more of Budnitz's work.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gene Koo on February 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Judy Budnitz dares make the genre of allegory palatable again by stretching her metaphors to absurd lengths. In "Where we come from," the first in this excellent collection of short stories, a mother's need to provide the best for her son leads her to delay giving birth until he can be born in the right place - and even then she can't let go. Compared to this, the shenanigans of parents trying to get children into "feeder" nursery schools seem downright sane.

The anxiety of motherhood runs through the best of the stories in this collection. In addition to "Where we come from," the teasingly titled "miracle" (first published in The New Yorker) describes a situation in which the normal ambivalence of new parents is magnified by a decidedly unusual child.

For Budnitz, motherhood is the flip side of daughterhood: "Where we come from" starts with the mother as young daughter. "Flush," perhaps the best in the collection, is a straightforward, poignant story of the intertwined fates of mothers and daughters, while "Visitors" examines the gap and alienation (perhaps literally) between them. And "Motherland," which begins as a thought experiment about "an island of mothers," suddenly transforms into an evocative wish to transcend the roles we are assigned as daughters - and sons.

The weakest stories in the collection explore the consequences of motherhood gone wrong - the Big Spoiled American Baby. "Nadia" highlights the ego- /ethno-centrism of the Baby when she's all grown up, but it soon veers too far into caricaturing the unsympathetic narrator. "Elephant and boy" suffers from a similar weakness in exploring a similar theme. On the other hand, "Preparedness," featuring the President as Big Baby, successfully repackages tired hippie sentiments into a gentle fairy tale.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy S. Burnich on March 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really like the way Judy Budnitz writes. I picked up Flying Leap years ago and was hooked. She is one of those authors that when I go to a bookstore I look up to see if anything new is released. I don't know if she is for everyone though. Her stories tend to be highly . . . imaginative. They are almost like fairy tales, allegories that may or may not have a deeper meaning. To be honest, I've never really looked. Her writing is just so rich and full of flavor that I tend to just devour the stories in a sitting and not think about them later. Her writing has matured and "Nice Big American Baby" has a darker feeling than Flying Leap. I would even argue that it is darker than her novella, "If I told you once," which has its dark parts, but really straddles the space between Flying Leap and Baby. My favorite story by far in this collection is "Saving Face" a story about two people living in an imaginary authoritarian regime ruled by a benign Prime Minister. Perhaps it is a sign of her maturation as an author (or perhaps me as a reader) that I do keep this story percolating in my head going over themes of true love, devotion, happenstance, and self that play in this story. It is really very very good. "Visitors" is also a nice diversion wherein she uses an interesting flash-cut narrative routine that never gets boring or staid due to the fact that after each transition you are left wondering what NEW bizarre twist of dialogue or scenery she going to appear. You really can't go wrong with a Budnitz book so if you are looking for something of an interesting read I would highly recommend her.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter Rosen on March 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It will be interesting to see what other reviews of this work will be like; I imagine that there will be many that are extremely positive and some that will be very negative. That tends to happen when someone reacts to something novel. Reviewers will try and type Ms. Budnitz's stories as political or magical realism. Her work does not fit neatly into any genre.

What Ms. Budnitz does amazingly well is despite fantastical plots and truly hilarious writing, she taps into the reader's feelings and the result is not always pleasant. In "Miracle" we are exposed to a baby of fantastic density and ambiguous race. Although the events are extraordinary, the feelings of burden, disconnection, love, and guilt are commonplace to the reader. The effect reminds me of Tim O'Brien's magnificent "How to Tell a True War Story" as Ms. Budnitz allows herself complete freedom in her plot to achieve her goal to get the reader to feel wants she needs you to feel. There will be some like my mother, who after reading "Miracle" in The New Yorker, called me very troubled by the story with the review of, "you are not suppose to tap into those feelings about your own baby", but what is undeniable is how affecting the stories can be.

The result are stories about people who prefer nuclear holocaust drills to real-life (as in "Preparedness" my favorite story in the collection) or racism turned in the spreading of plague or supposed do-gooders doing repulsive acts. Each of these stories requires reflection, re-reading, and conversation. I made more phone calls to friends while reading this collection than any other that I can remember.

What is also undeniable is how truly skilled Ms. Budnitz is with language.
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