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You Are Not a Stranger Here Paperback – September 4, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

In his debut story collection, You Are Not a Stranger Here, Adam Haslett drags into the light subjects often left in the cellar. Most of his stories are told from the viewpoint of the mentally ill (though one, "The Good Doctor," shows us madness from a caregiver's perspective). The rest of the stories deal with closeted homosexuality: boys who are just learning their identity, men who have never come to terms with it. Haslett is an enormously compassionate writer, and shows a lovely, plain-written acuity about his people. His writing is a convincing inside job--he never romanticizes or oversimplifies. In "The Volunteer," an old woman at a care facility is haunted by the voice of an ancestress named Hester: "For more than two decades, Elizabeth Maynard has done exactly as she is told and the voice of Hester, which has cost her so much, comes only quietly and intermittently. It is a negative sort of achievement, she thinks, to have spent a life warding something off."

Haslett has a gift for writing quietly about sensational topics: men cruising each other in the park at night; an abusive, self-hating relationship between two adolescent boys. The stories can get a bit too fancy: the writer can't resist the ironic twist or the surprise ending. Still, this is a beautifully written collection that's as heartfelt as it is intelligent. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this affecting debut collection, Yale Law School student Haslett explores the complex phenomena of depression and mental illness, drawing a powerful connection between those who suffer and those who attempt to alleviate that suffering. In "The Good Doctor," Frank, a young M.D., goes out of his way to discover the origin of his patient's illness, only to learn of both her untreatable pain and his own fears and regrets: "The fact was he still felt like a sponge, absorbing the pain of the people he listened to." In "The Beginnings of Grief," suffering becomes a way of healing when a teenager coming to terms with both his homosexuality and his parents' sudden deaths seeks connection wherever he can find it, even in the pain inflicted by a classmate's violence. Often, Haslett convincingly interweaves the perspectives and lives of seemingly disparate individuals. In "The Volunteer," a teenager's awkward incomprehension in the face of his first sexual encounter bizarrely coincides with the breakdown of a schizophrenic woman he visits after school. Not all of the stories are charged with this kind of emotional complexity, however, and some tend toward the sentimental, as does "The Storyteller," in which the clinically depressed Paul, who feels himself to be nothing but a burden to his wife, Ellen, rediscovers his vitality in a chance encounter with an elderly woman and her dying son. Though the thematic similarity of many of the stories dulls their startling initial impact, this is a strikingly assured first effort.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (September 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099443643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099443643
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,623,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Haslett is the author of the novel Union Atlantic and the New York Times best-selling short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award and has been translated into fifteen languages. The collection was one of Time Magazine's Five Best Books of the Year, a selection of Today's book club, and the winner of the 2006 PEN/Malamud Award. Haslett has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Best American Short Stories, The O'Henry Prize Stories, and National Public Radio's Selected Shorts. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Yale Law School, he currently lives in New York City.
Photo copyright Brigitte Lacombe

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on August 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
This debut volume of short stories by Adam Haslett begins with six of the most haunting stories I have read in a long while. The last three short stores, while very good, do not reach the same level as those first ones but it is a relief to step back a little from the power and the pain. Mental illness, grief and loss form a common thread throughout the book. The title of the volume comes from the words of one of the characters but the words of another could just as easily have substituted, "We will survive this". Somehow the characters do survive, just barely and with their pain a throbbing wound, but they do survive and the author brings us gently and persuasively to this understanding that people can and do survive just about anything. The stories should make you cry a little, feel a little empty for a moment, and then give you your breath back as you contemplate their jagged beauty. A gem of a book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Fletcher on January 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Adam Haslett's "You Are Not A Stranger Here" is the best collection of short stories I have read in a very long time. These are wonderfully engaging stories, rich with a menagerie of misfit and off-beat (but next-door-neighbour type) characters, each moving through depressive and manic events and circumstances, narrated by an exquisitely-familiar voice. Most of the mini-masterpieces deal with suppressed homosexuality, mental illness taking various shapes and forms, love unrequited, and the curses of extra-sensory perceptions. If only this brilliant wordsmith Haslett had more than one book.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "ustanov" on July 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Adam Haslett's book You Are Not a Stranger Here is a wonderful collection of nine short stories. All the stories are built around characters that are lonely and isolated from the normal world. There is a sadness to all nine stories that link them together despite the distinctly different settings, characters and situations. I give this book four stars only because some of the stories are so good that they make the others look mediocre. While none of the nine stories is actually mediocre, the outstanding ones show that Haslett is capable of doing better. Haslett's style of writing reminds me of William Faulkner. Haslett's mastery of prose will surely establish him as one of the best new American writers.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Chris Steib on August 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Haslett's collection immediately brings to mind Lydia Davis' Break It Down, how each tale is of the intricate relationship between two people and the often harrowing world in which these delicate bonds are made. Haslett, however, has an inimitable knack for building the most unlikely relationships and, by extension, the most unique stories. An aging, manic inventor tries to reconcile the severed relationship with his son; a high school boy admits to himself that he's "the only kid at his school who gets his romantic advice from a schizophrenic"; a brother and sister, living together, alone, await a visit from a man they both once loved twenty years before. Nothing is as it seems - even a man's hometown, draped with those typical childhood memories, is punctuated with grief:

Emptier still, the train moves on, past the tennis courts and baseball fields where Daniel played as a child, past the supermarket here he bagged groceries after school and the police station where he and his mother used to file the missing person reports.

But Haslett's stories are beautiful even in their harshest moments, as they bear with them an overwhelming emotional intensity. The normal lives of his characters are ultimately shattered by loss or the realization of its inevitability. So often the characters end up exhausted, faces in hands, at the end of a long journey of reconciliation - and in doing so, the stories also show great promise and hope in the human spirit.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By T.Wagner on November 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
It is a rare thing to find fiction that deals with flawed and wounded people without driving into the ditch of sentimentality. It is rarer still to find prose that grabs the reader while we are learning about these people's lives.
Haslett writes simple stories about complex people and offers no easy answers and no trite endings. They are just honest stories about regular people, many of whom are dealing with emotional disturbance or staggering loss. His skill is presenting these biographies without judgement and with an attention to detail that allows you to notice every flick of a cigarette and every lock of hair twisted between nervous fingers. You learn about these people in a way that is often uncomfortable. As I read these stories I was reminded how much we learn of strangers on long train rides or airport layovers. In a few hours and in a confined space many secrets are shared and sometimes a rare intimacy can occur.
Haslett's stories capture rare intimacies and his language is lyrical without distracting from the story. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the human condition and especially to anyone who works with the mentally or physically ill. It is a revelation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lee Scott on December 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Adam Haslett is a writer who knows how to lure you in. His stories have a melodious rhythm burnished to a high sheen by his obvious intelligence and sophistication. He is a times a writer in search of his own voice (as you'd expect in a debut collection), but the characters and plots of his stories are bold and self-assured. For all his charm and sophistication, he knows how to hit the reader with tragic stories that are too complex to be dismissed as melodrama.

The flaws other reviewers have pointed out are there (if you choose to see them as flaws). Haslett's stories mostly trade on the same handful of themes: thwarted homosexual desire, mental illness, and parental abandonment (usually by suicide). More disappointing (IMO) is the weakness of the last three stories compared to the others. I read an interview with Haslett where he said he wrote the last three after signing a contract for the book. They feel rushed and uninspired, as if they were dashed off to round out the collection. In the same interview, he said he's working on a novel. It's now been a few years since this collection came out, so hopefully his novel will be out soon. I know I'll be first in line to read it.
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