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The Bigness of the World: Stories Hardcover – October 15, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ostlund's remarkable debut collection deftly navigates the treacherous shoals of decaying relationships in which the protagonists often escape to faraway lands in order to find themselves, or, at the very least, their partners. Fate, for the globe-trotting teacher-entrepreneur of And Down We Went, takes the form of an untimely bird dropping; in Bed Death, it is a Malay waitress who casually takes a sip of orange juice from the narrator's glass. Ostlund's artful prose is playfully complex and illuminating, evocative and unsentimental, as in Upon the Completion of Baldness, in which the narrator's girlfriend returns home from a trip completely bald. Remarks the narrator, the chilly desert air seemed to startle her as though, in that moment, she realized that there was a price to be paid for having no hair, and while I still said nothing, I was happy to see her suffer just a bit. A specific disenchantment inhabits these stories—the disenchantment of the uncompromising romantic confronted with the evaporative nature of love. Each piece is sublime. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


The Bigness of the World is simply a stunning collection―every story jewel-crafted and resonant. I read stories to meet people I do not know and have not imagined, but even in that context Lori Ostlund’s people are unique. I begin by thinking that I know these characters or have known them. And then somewhere along the way, they shape-shift and startle me. Over and over again I find myself looking at the world from a fresh perspective―this sharp-eyed, compassionate writer’s rendering of the world I thought I knew. This is a book to remake our imaginary landscape―the kind of book I not only recommend, I advocate. Read this, I want to tell people. You need these stories. You do.

(Dorothy Allison author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Trash)

These sly stories are funny and unpredictable and graced with priceless details you'll carry with you long after the last page is turned. Whether charting the loneliness of youth, or tracing the emotional upheavals of lovers abroad, Ostlund proves to be a wise, charming, and irresistible guide.

(Eric Puchner author of Music Through the Floor: Stories)

Witty and sharp, Ostlund has crafted eleven surprising and often very funny tales that remind us just how vast the world really is.


Ostlund’s artful prose is playfully complex and illuminating, evocative and unsentimental. . . . Each piece is sublime.

(Publishers Weekly)

Lori Ostlund told an interviewer that short stories have always come natural to her. These precise explorations of longing and loss show that she is already a master of that demanding form.

(Magill Book Reviews)

Insights that arrive too late fill these resonant tales―of abandoned lovers, neglected children, and travelers in foreign lands.

(Coastal Living)

The Bigness of the World wastes no time in establishing Ostlund as one of the new front-runners in Bay Area short fiction.

(San Francisco Magazine)

The characters in Ostlund's book are a picky breed, which is not to say they are unlikeable - to the contrary, they are so well-defined that the reader cannot help but find companionship in their annoyances, their frustrations, their search for meaning in a disparate world . . . The Bigness of the World is an impressive first collection, and I am excited to see what Lori Ostlund does next.

(Kasey Pfab The Corresponder)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; First Edition edition (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082033409X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820334097
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
i'm somewhat disappointed. not in the writing itself, that is exemplary; the level of introspection of the characters & their interactions with each other and the world around them are masterful. & not in the subject matter, as i had no qualms with reading about Minnesota (i've never been, save through this work) or teachers (specifically english teachers) or older lesbian couples in deteriorating relationships. my disappointment lies in the fact that these characters occupy the same space in every story, the same POV, the same irritations & foibles. that despite the title of the collection, i felt in no way that i'd traveled anywhere further than the first couple of stories, that i'd been moved to a different space or been reading about a variety of characters. similar scenes, similar feelings, similar outlooks permeated every story to the point where i felt i'd reread the exact same story by the end of each, which has a feeling of being in a maze and running hopefully down a corridor for an exit, only to come to a dead end. the foreign characters could've been lumped into the same collective whole, with the same collectively strange mysteriousness about them, that they became nothing more than ornamental macguffins to the overall thrust of the stories, which served to go against the title and premise of the work.

alone, the stories are without peer. but as a collection, i cannot fully recommend it. this is an award winning collection, so i expected much more variety in stories while retaining an overall cohesiveness. but this was cohesive to the point of nigh repetition.
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Format: Hardcover
"However can you understand the bigness of the world if you do not see the ocean?"-Ilsa Martin Lumpkin

Like a few of the other books I reviewed of late, I discovered Lori Outland's "The Bigness of the World" (The University of Georgia Press, 2009) as a result of its being nominated as a Lambda Literary Award finalist. This work also received the prestigious Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2008, which resulted in its publication by the University of Georgia Press.

Let me say it outright: this book is such a good read that I am a wee bit afraid that I might smother it with praise! For praise it deserves. Ms. Ostlund, who I will dub as a consummate wordsmith, has the ability to instantly draw you into each story with such precision and ease that you might actually think this is your world too. Let me explain. Every story feels like it is being told to you by someone you know, someone you've know or thought about, or better still, someone you think you'd like to know.

It is obvious that her experience as a teacher in Spain, Malaysia and New Mexico becomes the canvass on which she paints her simple and oftentimes touching pictures of people and how they transact life, not only with each other, but with the world at large.

The title story opens the book, and we are introduced to Martin and Veronica. He is ten, (a number that reappears often in the stories), and she is eleven, going on twelve. These two delightfully precocious children live in a household with parents who are busily engaged in activities that, to their children, seem "nebulous at best".

Because the parents are rarely home, the two children are put under the care of Ilsa Maria Lumpkin. The children adore her, and love her amusingly idiosyncratic ways.
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Format: Hardcover
Dorothy Allison's review is dead-on. You need these stories. This is a collection that shows us what is missing in so many of today's stories: compassion without sacrificing piercing insights and humor (I laughed out loud at the acronym-hating babysitter in the lead story); intelligence without sacrificing the demands of a good yarn; and modesty before the vast world without sacrificing sublime prose.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms. Ostlund has a sharp and sympathetic eye that makes each of her characters and their situations instantly engaging, and in many cases familiar, as if you or someone you know well has served as her inspiration. I also can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so often while reading a story collection, or any book. Even as she's writing a sobering story about how a romantic relationship fails or how a person loses his or her illusions about the world and his or her place in it, Ostlund is able to infuse the narrative with humor that saves her characters from complete despair or despondency. I can't recommend this debut collection strongly enough; it's truly a remarkable and unique book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund is a highly recommended award winning collection of eleven short stories originally published in 2009. This review copy is for the eBook and the paperback release. As a debut collection, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize.

Contents include: The Bigness of the World; Bed Death; Talking Fowl with My Father; The Day You Were Born; Nobody Walks to the Mennonites; Upon Completion of Baldness; And Down We Went; Idyllic Little Bali; Dr. Daneau’s Punishment; The Children Beneath the Seat; All Boy; an Excerpt from 'After the Parade.'

Common themes presented are emotional isolation and reserve, separation, complex and deteriorating relationships, disappointments, the loss of love, and the pain of loss. Many of the damaged relationships depicted are either between two women or children and parents. In many stories the women involved are teaching in foreign countries. There is a similarity in the characters and the circumstances in several of the stories which can feel repetitive.

All of the stories are exquisitely well written but, honestly, all of the stories are also profoundly sad, or at least they left me feeling sad and reflecting on the loss and isolation that is present in these fragile lives. It might behoove the reader to take these little gems one at a time, and take a break between reading them. An excellent collection, but the emotional heaviness it leaves you with begs considering refraining from reading them all at once.
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