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The Stories of J.F. Powers (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 31, 2000
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"In these stories, there is a lovely, travelling hesitancy, an obliquity, so that they seem to creep up on the reader….The strongest of them are surely among the finest written by an American." — James Wood, The New Yorker
"To read the first story (“The Lord’s Day”) in this collection is to put down the book with the sense of having read as great a short story as any ever written, and I mean by anybody: by Cheever, Sherwood Anderson, Checkov. What ease they have is in the style: there are no easy morals here, no edifying lessons, but their vigor and correctness make them delightful to read. And while they’re terribly funny — laugh—out—loud funny, in spots — they’re also complex and deeply serious." — Donna Tartt, Harper’s
"Power’s particular blend of trenchancy and bleak wit….Powers’ short pieces remain more effective than his novels. His was a gift of understatement and speed, and at his best his narrative economy is breathtaking….It is a pleasure to see [them] reissued…in a single volume. For a collection that spans three decades, The Stories of J.F. Powers isn’t especially long, but the work is striking, impelled by a vision that has been cleansed by deep intelligence and powerful subject matter." — Erin McGraw, The Georgia Review
About the Author
Denis Donoghue is University Professor at NYU, where he holds the Henry James Chair of English and American Letters. He is the author of The Practice of Reading, Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot, and, most recently, The American Classics. (October 2006)
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Top Customer Reviews
The stories collected here also include Powers's tragic pieces, as well as other sketches and thinly disguised passages of his own family life. These are exemplary works, and perhaps the best examples of American writing ever produced, for Powers has often been called "the writer's writer" for the craft and care with which he chooses words.
Attention has been paid to the fact that Powers was a Catholic writer, and there have been critics who strain to invoke comparison with Flannery O'Connor. For me the only points of tangency are that they were Catholics, were writers, wrote about humor and irony, but that is about it. Their voices create entirely different worlds, and their characters are hewn from different rock, and their anima sprouted from different soil.
Powers is a distinctly different writer, speaking from a different landscape and with a plainness of style that invokes the Midwest and invites comparison with Willa Cather. But as William Faulkner said and wrote, Powers's subjects are circumscribed by "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing."
And so we return to Powers's comedy.Read more ›
Denis Donaghue provides an efficient introduction to this rather prickly author, whose moral backbone, no-nonsense manner, and ear for the telling phrase and the revealing pause made him one of America's most talented recorders of fictional priests, laity, and in two great stories a cat as the narrator of Midwestern foibles, dreamers, and ordinary folks, whether in rectories or social halls. His best stories do involve the clergy, as any reader of Powers will recognize, but these at their best emerge more vividly when included among the lesser attempts at themes such as baseball, the space race, race relations, wife-swapping, and a chillingly rendered Welcome Wagon lady.
Powers took his good time writing these stories, so take yours reading them. If you would like more advice on each of the thirty, take a look at my reviews of "Prince," "Presence," and "Look." There, I briefly comment upon each story in the order they were originally printed.Read more ›
I will say that I found the short stories to have a different feel to them than his longer works - there is much more tension in them and less of the understated humor. It wasn't a book where I could read one story after another; I usually needed a break between each one to just mull it over.
Many of the stories concern Catholic priests in some American situation and have the feel of the '50s and '60s. I think Powers chose priests to write about so much because they represented a man stripped of a number of encumbrances - family, owning a home, business responsibilities - and so freed him to write about more elemental themes. Many of these themes aren't particularly noble or exalted; spirituality rarely lifts its head. Hierarchy and bureaucracy are the background for many of the pieces. Parishioners have a minor role, usually as one more responsibility to get through in the day. Men come out of the seminary full of energy and ideals and ambition and slowly become the senior old grouch bedeviling a new generation of energetic idealists.
The baggage today around clergy, especially Catholic clergy, is so very different that the stories seem to almost be from another time, and I have to wonder that his priests seem to never regret their decisions to forgo women, family and a choice of home life, but it isn't a huge issue in the enjoyment of his work.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
J.F. Powers is a well-kept secret from many readers, who will delight if they encounter his work--two novels and now, these stories.Published 21 months ago by G. M. Seely
For this review I concentrate on J. F. Power’s priestly stories which comprise two thirds or so of the book’s contents. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Neil Shephard
Beforehand I'd just like to say that I am a priest and that this review is written from that perspective. Read morePublished on January 17, 2014 by Aaron Greenburg
Powers stories are crafted with sardonic realism and an ear for the "language" of Catholic priests. Read morePublished on December 2, 2013 by Bob the Builder
Powers is just amazing! He was never published here in my country, and Brazil is missing such sagacity and delicacy. Read morePublished on October 7, 2012 by Enzo Potel
Advertised as used, condition good, the book was actually in almost new condition. Having paid for only standard shipping, I was thrilled to receive my book in what had to be... Read morePublished on April 2, 2011 by Book Lady