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Unkempt: Stories Paperback – August 8, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (August 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156032082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156032087
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,142,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thought- rather than plot-driven, this debut short fiction collection vacillates between incisive dark humor and meandering jaunts through the jumbled mess of characters' heads. The title story is a precise, painful exposé of a mother-daughter relationship as mother and daughter bounce off each other with all the grace of bumper cars: " 'There. Is. No. Situation. Do-you-under-stand-what-I'm-say-ing?' she said, mouthing her words like she was speaking to a retard or something." The unparalleled bizarreness of life in New York City is a common theme throughout, delineated especially carefully in "Young Professionals," which rapidly runs through agoraphobia, AIDS, armpit-hair eating cats, obsessive-compulsive disorder and the mysteries of androgyny. The sly "Sharks" plays on the irrational fears people love to discover in others, the narrator vowing to "find [my friend's] weakness, I will, and then I'll go for the kill." Strongest and most entertaining is the novella "The Former World Record Holder Settles Down," in which a porn star who's had sex with 197 men tries to reconcile her past with her current life as a happily married, faithful wife. A few stories are overclever and less absorbing, but most are bitingly insightful, summed up by the porn star's belief: "Everyone has a story; anyone's infinitely capable of fucking up without any good reason other than the fact that they're human."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"New Yorker Courtney Eldridge creates dark chaotic worlds, then traps the reader inside this space until they have read the last word, thereby becoming her collaborator . . . Eldridge's [obsessions] are bloody, naked and screaming. It's hard not to look."

"[A] skewed, jittery, dazzlingly original collection . . . Neurosis is to Eldridge's stories what suburbia was to Cheever's: it's at once context, antagonist and metasubject. Her brilliant trick is to write in a voice so colloquially familiar that we don't automatically classify these crazy people as 'the other' but rather recognize them as our friends, our family members or even ourselves." -THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daniel W. DeLuca on November 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific read, funny and tragic and powerful. It's a little edgy like Lorrie Moore, but much more intimate, more personal. You're really inside the characters' thoughts, which are mostly going at warp speed. The tone is urban and energetic, not to mention pretty neurotic most of the time. These are characters with Issues, and usually they're quite aware of them. One woman is deathly afraid of sharks in swimming pools -- she knows there are not sharks in swimming pools, but she's constructed a very elaborate rationale for her fears. But the anxieties and neuroses are cut with great personal warmth and intimacy, not to mention great humor. Even the title story, which develops from a rather breezy look at a woman estranged from her daughter to a very intense and direct portrait of What

Went Wrong, even this story has some laugh-out-loud material. It ends on a nicely optimistic note, too. The Former World Record Holder of the last story, whose record was as pornographic as records get, she settles down and discovers her Inner Wife and Bowler. And it's beautifully plausible, beautifully real, like all these stories.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Catharine Dill on August 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to coast along and admire the breadth of vernacular on display in Unkempt and forget that there is one virtuostic voice at work, and she hears EVERYTHING -- every fragment of consciousness, every syllable of contemporary anguish, every exhalation. There are a lot of writerly fragments and run-ons running amok out there, but these are the most perfectly flawed sentences I've seen in many years. Eldridge has an incredible perception of what's going on in the minds of apparently everyone who walks down her street, and a rhythmic sensibility for making it understood. While all of these stories at first appear to be messy tangents, they serve as well-scrubbed mirrors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this original, brilliant collection of short stories, New Yorker Courtney Eldridge offers us a twisted, askew glimpse into the darkest corners of the human mind and the fears of our present society. Eldridge does this with a razor-sharp eye, candidness, and a wacky sense of humor.

Unkempt has seven stories and one novella, and presents an array of desperate and pathetic characters who either are trying to cope with the helplessness of their lives, or are completely and painfully unaware of it: a blocked writer who systematically erases everything she writes, a woman who thinks there are sharks in regular swimming pools, a lady who is unaware she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a clerk at a retail store who is accosted by demented customers, an alcoholic mother who can't understand her daughter's behaviour, and ex-porn star who now is trying to keep her first "real" relationship afloat... these are some of the characters you'll meet in this darkly hilarious anthology.

The author's writing style can be quite smothering at times, as no quotation marks or new paragraphs are used to separate dialogue. It is a clever technique to infuse the same feelings of "confusion" and "desperation" to the reader as the ones the character is feeling. That said, Eldridge's writing is incredibly revealing and illuminating. In fact, the ability to combine these two aspects is Eldridge's gift. The following passage, taken from "Sharks," perfectly exemplifies the writing style used throughout the book:

"You honestly believe there are sharks at the Sol Goldman Y? I asked. It's not about believing; it's about my fear. This is my fear I'm talking about. I got that much, I said. Well, there you go, she said. You asked, I told you. No, you're right, okay.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on March 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ms. Eldridge captures moments of true neurotic expression in her new book. And she presents them to the reader in her own unique manner. Her work is often experimental, but not `Bohemian' in this well crafted portrait of people and their private neurotic fears and moments. Truly just for her fine portrayal of these psychic anomalies there is plenty of justification to purchase and read this fine book. As a first book, it is quite well done.

Without revealing any plot lines it is worth noting that the following neurotic symptomologies are portrayed beautifully in her book of stories: writer's block, fear of sharks, belief in little invisible elves in the night, fear of intimacy, hypochondria, fear of success, obsessive-compulsive behavior, alcoholism, eating disorders, paranoid behavior and promiscuity. The list is formidable, and so are the stories.

The author has an extremely acute sense of being well understood and articulated in both the beginning of the story and the end of the story. She talks about it in her first story. And in that regard, she has truly succeeded, her stories illustrate both wonderful beginnings and truly ironic and interesting endings; while some of her middles could have been 5 to 10 pages shorter and still gotten the same message across. Nonetheless, the book does stand out, particularly as a debut offering, as one which shows an author with a talented future.

Special commentary is deserved on the title story, "unkempt." Of all the stories in the book, this one truly just works right. It holds the reader's attention very strongly as she moves through this very wonderful tale; which somehow has a little something in it for everyone.
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More About the Author

Courtney Eldridge is the author of Unkempt, a collection of short stories, and The Generosity of Women, a novel. She has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Ucross Foundation, and was awarded the Prix du Marais literary prize for Record à battre, the French translation of her first novella, "The Former World Record Holder Settles Down." Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including McSweeney's, New York Times Magazine, BOMB, Whitewall Magazine, Another Man and Opening Ceremony Annual.

In 2013, she will serve as a National Writing Juror for the Scholastic Art and Writing Award for the third year in a row, and in June, her young adult novel, Ghost Time, the first of a trilogy, will be published by Amazon Publishing. She lives in Los Angeles and is now at work on a screenplay and the sequel to Ghost Time.

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Unkempt: Stories
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