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Refresh, Refresh: Stories Paperback – October 2, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Percy's second collection (following last year's The Language of Elk) traces lives led in rural Oregon's fractured, mostly poor communities. The title story (selected for The Best American Short Stories 2006), presents Josh, a young man from small-town Tumalo who watches as men who signed up as Marine reservists for beer pay leave to fight in the Iraq War, including Josh's father. As Josh's unreliable first person details a deer hunt, the escapades of the town recruitment officer and the less-and-less frequent e-mails from his father, tension slowly builds. Set during a blackout, The Caves in Oregon follows geology teacher Becca and her husband, Kevin, as they explore a network of caves beneath their home, grappling to understand each other in the wake of a miscarriage. Meltdown imagines a nuclear disaster in November 2009, while the menacing Whisper opens with the accidental late-life death of Jacob, leaving his brother, Gerald, to care for Jacob's stroke-impaired wife. Percy's talent for putting surprising characters in difficult contemporary settings makes this a memorable collection. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

The title story in Percy's collection won the Plimpton and Pushcart prizes and was anthologized in Best American Short Stories of 2006, and justly so. In it, the small town of Tumalo, Oregon, loses its coaches, teachers, barbers, and cooks when the army deploys a batallion of part-time soldiers to Iraq. Two of the men's sons, still reeling from their fathers' departure, spend the time boxing as a way to alleviate stress, anxiously awaiting their fathers' communiqués by e-mail. The other stories, also set in rural Oregon at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, all carry a similar thread of emotional desperation. And that pain is inevitably mirrored in a threatening landscape, which here, in one viscerally rendered story after another, includes a mad bear, an eerie underground cave, and a dangerous hail storm. In one of the most boldly envisioned stories, "Meltdown," a nuclear accident has left Oregon a dead zone, unpopulated save for renegades like Darren. He drives down deserted, ash-covered streets because "living with ghosts feels more like a victory, somehow." These are hard-hitting stories from a writer to watch. Wilkinson, Joanne
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555974856
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555974855
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #864,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By F. Tyler B. Brown on October 9, 2011
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Tumalo, Oregon is the American frontier of today- far different than the John Wayne, plus sized machismo, and tobacco-spitting Wild West of black and white cowboy movies.

Tumalo has many textures. Good and evil don't fight each other in horseback showdowns; they are confusedly linked like a jelly fish's tentacles. Pain and loss live on the surface of daily life.

Percy's Tumalo is firstly a masculine world. A world of omnipresent blood, of knuckle-tearing and sledgehammer-swinging factory work, snot and dirt-filled backyard brawls, Budweiser's consumed in front of nightly Wheel of Fortune episodes, and piles of animal bones.

This western and resourceful frontier brawniness, in all its masculinity, however, never ceases being real.

The turbocharged, big chested, Papa Hemingway manliness serves to merely color the inescapable pains and joy's of everyday life: a father at war, a wife's miscarriage, a father tormented with watching his daughter suffer through a destructive relationship.

The brawny, unshaven gruff, the stand-up freezers of hanging deer carcasses, the vultures, hunting dogs, and pools of deep red blood wouldn't work, just wouldn't work without the counterposed textures of human vulnerability and tenderness: the struggling marriage, an aging man feeling his mortality, a tyrannical and abusive husband, and father and son whom cannot find the words to pierce the silence of a car ride down a quiet country road.

The vulnerability and masculinity in "Refresh, Refresh" interplay in a polyphonic, brilliant way that is above all- authentic. These stories from Benjamin Percy represent life lived honestly, if not perfectly, and in unwavering recognition of the human struggles that befall, in some form, us all.
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This review originally appeared on my blog, which can be found on my site at [...].

I guess I'm a little cynical. I lost faith in the short story? Did I? Is that it? When I read, I'm hopeful. And, despite my faithlessness, I am sometimes surprised.

Let's see. I bought their books after reading Richard Russo's "Horseman," Roy Kesey's "Wait," Nathan Englander's "How We Avenged the Blums," and William Gay's, "Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?" Lorrie Moore has been pretty influential. Kyle Minor gave me a Flannery O'Connor epiphany with "A Day Meant to Do Less." And I'm still in love with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

Sometimes I hold the stories up to my own fierce literary theories about the redemptive end (see my essay on "Lost," which is out there somewhere). Sometimes I read stuff and just forget about it. But sometimes I read something and take notes.

Okay, let's not call me "cynical." Let's use "eclectic" instead.

So I just finished Benjamin Percy's Refresh, Refresh.

This is one of the good ones. I'm not sure it really meets my whole redemptive-end-standards, but these are good stories with meaning and resolution. They're also fairly, hmm, masculine. I can tell a guy wrote them. I hope that's okay to say. I know I don't like when people say that I write for women (I don't!)--but I'm okay if you say I write like a girl. These are stories written by a guy, though they're not enmeshed in that Hemingway macho stuff. There is, however, a fair amount of hunting and fishing.

But, ultimately, they're stories for men and women. Perhaps they deal with a universal concern.
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Benjamin Percy possesses a narrative voice that can only be described as hard, imaginative and haunting. At least two of the stories in this collection are good enough to be among the greatest short stories I've ever read. I highly recommend this book, especially for those who enjoy a very masculine voice that relies heavily on imagery and metaphor and for those who enjoy authors like Cormac McCarthy and Phil LaMarche, who have similar styles.
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"Refresh, Refresh" is rock'n'roll in form of short stories. It is an instant page-turner and you will be re-reading the stories more than once. The only other authors which gave me the same buzz were Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Raymond Chandler. Percy's language is brutally honest and polished, two qualities that are hard to come by in the space needed to deliver a short story. Don't forget to get "Language of Elk" along with "Refresh, Refresh."
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The characters were all well rounded with a ton of agency. The subject matter was dark and gritty. There was one story where I was telling "No! No way! What the hell?" the whole time. I was still shocked when I got to the ending. It was pretty awesome :)

Overall, this is a really good short story collection. I highly recommend it.
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What a great new voice! This is such a diverse collection, not only of subject matter and genre but of pacing, scope, and theme. Often collections seem to delineate a kind of territory that the author is fluent in, but Percy continually subverted my expectations with each story. Jeez, what can't this guy write? The prose is imaginative and delivered with a touch of off-kilter quirkiness that reminds me of George Saunders. It's work like this that restores my faith in the short story. I highly recommend this collection.
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