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Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge Hardcover – August 6, 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2013: Peter Orner’s exquisite second collection of stories rambles across time and place, from postwar 1947 to 1978 to 1958, from Chappaquiddick to Chicago to the Czech Republic, each exposing a small, intimate moment. Like an uncomfortably candid photograph (the work of William Eggleston or Vivian Maier comes to mind), the stories are finite and tightly framed, some just a page or two. Some are whimsical, some sobering, and most conclude with a “wow” moment that requires a pause--to reflect on the horror or beauty of the story, or the bravado of the writer. In one of the strongest pieces, a boy-girl conversation about an ex-lover turns unexpectedly chilling, ending with the perfect closing line: “I said don’t touch me.” From a frightened dad suffering a “permanent state of mourning” to the “childless couple” murdered in their garage to the brothers looking back on the day they fished beneath the infamous bridge at Chappaquiddick, Orner’s characters are raw, exposed, often sad, and the dialogue conveys the uncomfortable sense that you’re spying on deeply personal conversations. In a year of high-profile collections (George Saunders, Karen Russell) Orner deserves a place among those who are bringing the short form back to new artistic heights. --Neal Thompson

From Booklist

Orner is an undisputed master of the short short story (his first collection, Esther Stories, 2001, has just been reissued), a form that even shapes his novels (Love and Shame and Love, 2011). The 51 distilled tales in this fizzing, chilling, and incisive collection are rich in emotional intricacy, drama, and devilish humor. Also in high evidence is Orner’s fascination with fractious marriages and families under pressure—especially in beautifully rendered stories set in his native Illinois—and his gift for a touch of evil. A wife stands by her Bernie Madoffish husband. A man compulsively returns to a restaurant where a murder was committed. A father barely escapes a hurricane with his daughter. A woman recounts her lover’s disappearance and macabre reappearance. A woman in Mexico City misses her sister, who is out of reach in Ohio. With an eye to history and the mythic nature of public figures, Orner imagines Isaac Babel’s last moments and the struggles of Russian immigrants, the Kennedys, and Chicago mayors. This is a book of alchemical concentration, microcosmic resonance, arresting surprises, and stubborn tenderness. --Donna Seaman
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316224642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316224642
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was not a huge fan of this collection, but I suspect the problem was me and not Peter Orner’s work, and there are certainly a number of stories and concepts I would absolutely recommend.

He’s written a series of very brief stories exploring things like what it means to survive the loss of a loved one and especially a loved one you would expect to outlive and how we conduct our relationships with the dead, how we fulfill our unfinished business with them; how we interact with what’s normal and what’s expected of us; the way different places can allow you to be a different person or to imagine yourself as one, to change; and the isolated, closed-off territories only accessible to the two of you you create in a relationship, what Orner refers to as “the country of us.” He emphasizes a strong sense of place and a profound and pervasive sense of loss, a pained nostalgia for a past you can’t keep hold of anymore.

I was most struck and moved by his meditations on surviving loss and grief and the sadness, loss of dignity and fear of aging/looming mortality. He has a keen eye for Western grief rituals and tropes and the ways in which they fail to satisfy us, and many of his tales of the experience of the elderly had me reaching for the phone to call my grandmother. His style lends itself well to finding something real and evocative about these awesome, universal and terrifying human experiences, letting you feel it and leaving it at that. He doesn’t try to say too much about the unspeakable.

(Speaking of which, I was struck in reading it with this thought: ALL writing is fundamentally about human mortality on some level, isn’t it? It’s about a story that deserves to be remembered after you die and it would be obliterated if it only existed in your mind.
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Format: Hardcover
There are two types of stories in the collection from Peter Orner titled, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge: short and shorter. I enjoyed reading both types. Orner has the skill to present wit or devastation in just a few paragraphs. We don’t ever find out the complete life or story, but we get the condensed essence. Orner meanders from one time period and place to another in this collection. Each story includes finely written prose and cohesion. No matter how short the story, I consciously paced myself to read only one story at each sitting. I wanted to absorb what Orner did in one story before I started to read another. Readers who enjoy a wide range of short stories are those most likely to savor this finely written collection.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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By Jane on August 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
No other living practitioner of the craft of short story matches Orner for his ability to plot the private realities of interior lives or duplicates his beautifully restrained prose. (His is language that plays across multiple registers from the formal to the casual--from the poetic to the staccato of noir pulp.) I would say these are stories that will break your heart in their sounding of human weakness and desire, but to do so would be to run counter to Orner's aesthetic, which is relentlessly, sometimes brutally, unsentimental. These are stories that bruise, even when they elicit laughter: tales of the ordinary, of everyday life, with its dark, small corners somehow illuminated. A brother who, in terrible innocence, leads a sister to drowning; a married couple whose life and relationship is wound round a banal lie that eventually corrupts and undoes both them and their small social world; a witness to a crime who confesses only to an understanding of the isolation of life in the strip malls of America.

Great, necessary read.
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Format: Hardcover
Nothing by Peter Orner can be read complacently. In content and form, Last Car is so varied that I could never settle into complacent reading. None of the narrators are complacent. Many of them, at whatever cost, try to get at The story and to keep it from dissolving in time. The title of the book itself suggests that to rescue a story, to get it "right," is to (nearly) rescue oneself. In another writer's hands, this might come off as melodrama. But the atmospheres of Orner's stories never allow them to seem contrived. I'm thinking of Cocoanut Grove, and Foley's Pond, but also Edward in Spokane, Chappaquiddick, At the Kitchen Table, The Dumpster, Nathan Leopold, Waukegan Story. In one of the book's shorter stories, The Moors of Chicago, it takes only Barkus' silence and the trampled kite, a few peculiar details, to insinuate an entire world. What bothers and excites me most about Orner's latest book, what might set him apart, is how many of his sentences insinuate an entire world--"Maybe the dog was the story" or "He will damn himself forever for not being relieved." Never the happiest or easiest worlds, but ones worth living in.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had the book on my Kindle for a few months before I got to it, so I forgot what it was about. It’s a bunch of short stories about different people in different time periods in different locations. Even though I didn’t enjoy the book, I did completely read it in hopes it would come together, but it never did for me. Sorry I just didn’t get the book. I’m not saying not to read it, I’m saying it’s wasn’t for me.
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