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Thirst Hardcover – June 1, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Five stars and a 10-gun salute: Kalfus fractures the concept of traditional short fiction with this debut collection. Deservedly cheered by David Foster Wallace ("Infinite Jest"; "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"), Kalfus's audacious stories have both charm and vision in multiple formats that reflect fiction's fabulous future.

The premier vignette, "Notice," explores the concept of "thirst," the interminable yearning that shapes human curiosity and achievement. Cynically set in the language of copyrights and legalese, "Notice" depicts the love life of the printed word, from its visceral seductiveness to our jealous control of its activities. In "Bouquet," a young au pair's aversion to open sexuality leads to a strange gift from a man who has been following her: a bouquet of flowers with a surprise that separates the prudish from the practical.

"The Republic of St. Mark, 1849" is an absolute jewel, surprising in its juxtaposition of the horrors of war and the mystical capacity of the human spirit. Alexandro "has been dying his whole life," but the eerie weapons of balloons and braziers that torment his besieged city finally bring him to death's surprising threshold, lofted into thinnest air by his own imagination.

Ken Kalfus quenches one's thirst for entertaining and intriguing fiction.

From Publishers Weekly

Kalfus veers between whimsical postmodern playfulness and a darker realism in the 14 stories of his skilled, versatile first collection. He demonstrates a sophisticated comic flair, best seen in "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz," which describes a number of entirely fictional baseball records. Sometimes, however, Kalfus's whimsy gets the best of him, as in "Invisible Malls," a reworking of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, an extended literary joke that wears thin. At the other extreme, some of his forays into more conventional fiction such as "Rope Bridge," about a man's desire for a friend of his wife'sAare a bit pedestrian. Kalfus is most successful when he mixes his different approaches into the original sort of magic realism he creates in the title tale, which concerns an erotically charged encounter between a virginal Irish au pair, Nula, and a Moroccan student, Henri Tatahouine, in Paris. The hallucinatory quality of Henri's account of his life leaves Nula emotionally blistered, as though she had been in the Sahara. The comic, horrifying "Cats in Space," which tells the tale of a group of kids who use helium balloons to launch a kitten into the air, is similarly effective. Though uneven, Kalfus's collection is ambitious and daring, with smart, fluid prose and an abundance of surprises.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions; 1st edition (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571310185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571310187
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,437,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ken Kalfus is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels, including "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country," a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. His collection, "Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies," was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2000, and the title story, "Pu-239," was the basis for the HBO movie of the same name. His other books include "Thirst," "The Commissariat of Enlightenment" and "Equilateral." Kalfus's third collection, "Coup de Foudre: A Novella and Stories," is being published in May 2015.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There is always something exciting about stumbling across hidden treasure - finding something rich and wonderful when you least expect it. Kalfus is a wonderful secret - quietly writing some of the most imaginative and diverse short fiction I've read recently. It's a great book for those who want to look cool holding a book by an author few people have heard of yet, but it's an absolute must for anyone who loves to get lost in a story and hasn't read anything very original in a long time.
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Format: Paperback
The fourteen stories here (all previous published in various lit reviews) display an amazing range of styles and a great deal of promise. There is whimsical comedy is the opening two and half page "Notice" and in the faux records of "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz". There is a liberal dose of fantastical elements, such as the never-ending snowstorm of "The Weather in New York", the mysterious nomads of "A Line Is A Series of Points", or the dual-existence protagonist of "Night and Day You Are the One." There is also the unfortunately presence of the literary joke story "Invisible Malls" (a pastiche of the Italian writer Calvino's Invisible Cities), and a weak meaning semi-historical Borgesian effort "The Republic of St. Mark, 1849."
Kalfus's more "realistic" stories are equally uneven. The stories "Bouquet" and "Thirst" cover an encounter in Paris between an Irish nanny and an Moroccan, and are totally run-of-the-mill. The longest story is "No Grace On the Road" (at 40+ pages), a very awkwardly done story set in Vietnam about a young upper-class official caught in a storm out in the countryside with his American wife, and forced to shelter in a peasant's hovel, where a baby lies dying. It's a really clumsy piece, worthy of a college freshman writing class. On the positive side of the ledger, the brief "Cats in Space" is a simple and haunting story of kids being cruel to neighborhood animals. "Suit" is another short but sweet piece, about a boy being fitted for a suit for a court appearance. "Rope Bridge" is probably the most conventional story in the collection, concerning a man who lusts after a vivacious friend of his wife.
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Format: Hardcover
Ken Kalfus is a terrific writer, a great stylist who can make any topic interesting. The first story -- "Notice" -- transforms the standard copyright notice paragraph found at the beginning of most books into a mini-story on the nature of memory. Other stories may seem experimental -- like the terrific "Invisible Malls" which pays tribute to Calvino's "Invisible Cities" -- but at their heart they always reveal truths about human nature. Highly recommended!
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Format: Paperback
"Thirst", by Ken Kalfus contains a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book. The Guide's goal is to help the readers find, "new and interesting angles and topics for discussion", as they pertain to the collection of stories. It may make a difference when these are glanced at, and they may be of interest to some readers. In my reading I could not get terribly interested in the stories or their characters to invest time beyond the actual reading.
This is the first of 2 books that Mr. Kalfus has written that contain a variety of short stories. I actually read the second collection first, as most who had read both found the second work weaker. In this work, "Thirst", there was one story I almost enjoyed that was shared in two parts, and one or two others I found intriguing until I came across the guide at the end. The guide seemed more of an effort to convince the reader of how much there was to these stories, how varied their structure was, and the symbolism that should be looked for. At times the guide read as an English Test.
"Le Jardin de la Sexualite", is presented in two parts, "Bouquet", and, "Thirst". It is the first story in the book, and it is mildly amusing at best, and only if an Au Pair chasing her two young girls in an attempt to get them out of an anatomically correct museum interests you. The Au pair is also pursued, and if some mind numbing attempt at exploring sexuality interests you, so will this story. "Cats In Space", will fascinate anyone who enjoyed harming small animals as a child, and, "Suit", is one of the most cliché pieces by far although the guide will attempt to convince you otherwise.
I may be the odd reader out with this book, but I would wager otherwise. Good writing does not need to be explained, just written. Write well and people will find no difficulty in discussing the work, present this material, and you best explain what you thought you were doing as some may reconsider their first opinion.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great collection of stories. I first read Ken Kalfus' book "Equilateral". That book struck me hard - big themes about East vs. West, ambition vs. the public good, science vs faith, etc. This is a book of about 12-15 short stories, and each one manages to fit big themes into a few pages.

There were a few stories in here that pushed the limits of my patience - stories on obscure subjects that seemed to be obscure just for the sake of being obscure. But generally the stories touched on general themes - marriage, love, etc - that will resonate with a lot of people.
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