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Talk Stories Hardcover – January, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Restraint, it turns out, is a highly effective critical strategy. In Talk Stories, her collection of New Yorker "Talk of the Town" pieces dating from 1974 to 1983, Jamaica Kincaid writes prose as bare and bright as a light bulb. Her sentences are so clean that she seems to know exactly what she's talking about. And that's what allows these morsels of reportage to transcend their genre and become small, pointed, thrilling judgments on the world. In "Romance," a piece on a conference of Harlequin romance writers, Kincaid writes, "The women, each of whom looked freshly coiffed, sat at tables in the middle of which were large bowls of yellow and gold chrysanthemums. The women seemed very excited." There we have subjectivity in the cool guise of objectivity. On the other hand, when Kincaid is for something, she comes right out and says it. The oddity is where these hosannas land. A knitting shop in Connecticut, for example, is "perhaps the nicest store in the world, because it is run and owned by perhaps one of the nicest women in the world--a woman named Beatrice Morse Davenport."

In her introduction, Kincaid writes: "All sentences, all paragraphs about this part of my life, my life as a writer, must begin with George Trow." The latter, who discovered Kincaid, wrote the kind of dry, clever occasional prose that flourished in the New Yorker in the 1970s and 1980s. Kincaid's Trow-like writing is the weakest, most attention-hungry in the book. "Party" is written in the style of a Nancy Drew mystery, "Two Book Parties" is written as a quiz, and "Expense Account" is just that--an expense account of a press breakfast, including the coy entry, "Cost of clothes other reporters wore to press breakfast (too complicated to make even a wild guess)." These pieces too closely resemble her mentor's work--clever but not actually, you know, funny. The structural fanciness seems cheap next to Kincaid's fine, goofily opinionated reporting. Still, after these wobbly forays into experimentation, she began to write the fiction that made her famous, so her fooling around seems to have paid off in the end. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" column will rejoice with the publication of Kincaid's new book, a collection of 77 short pieces she wrote at the magazine between 1978 and 1983, when it was under the stewardship of William Shawn. Preceded by an adoring foreword by former colleague Ian Frazier, the book opens with Kincaid's modest description of her evolution into a star writer, the realization of a dream she held as a young girl on the West Indian island of Antigua. Following a chance meeting with New Yorker writer George Trow, Kincaid was hired to contribute to the "Talk of the Town," which she quickly made her own with a spare, highly innovative narrative style. Approaching her assignments as "little stories in themselves," Kincaid experimented with the form and substance of each piece. From her richly detailed account of New York City's West Indian-American Day carnival to a wry tale about a late-night party at the fashionable eatery Mr. Chow's, her exceptional ability to record events and conversations never fails her. Shawn's "Talk of the Town" had many restrictions; Frazier recalls that writers couldn't use curse words or write about sex or about the journalistic topic of the week. Within these constraints, Kincaid moves through a wide variety of subjects: the slick soul of R&B pros Archie Bell and the Drells, the First International Soap Opera Exposition, Gloria Vanderbilt's regal greetings at a book signing, the manic wit of Richard Pryor, a mock expense account for a luncheon for Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife. This collection is more than a chart of Kincaid's maturation into an accomplished writer; it's an astounding display of early literary skill and youthful daring.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st edition (January 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374272395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374272395
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,272,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Jamaica Kincaid describes, in her terrific Introduction, her beginnings as a writer in New York in the '70's. She made a few great friends, and one brought her to the attention of William Shawn, beloved and legendary editor of the 'New Yorker.' He invited to submit short pieces. That magazine, which Kincaid points out was "a magazine that has since gone out of business, though there exists now a magazine by that name," was her home for over ten years. Kincaid's brief acid note and comment introduces an unignorable subtext: there existed a deeply valued and memorable world, now gone.
These pieces were Kincaid's apprenticeship in writing. They are a pleasure to read.
All were unsigned (giving writers a freedom she valued) when they first appeared in the magazine. Here they are arranged chronologically. If you are new to Jamaica Kincaid's mind and writing, they are a great introduction. If you are familiar with her amazing novels (or gardening essays for that matter) they are fresh, many are very funny, and all are examples, in varying ways, of how to write.
Great book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a collection of her earlier anonymous columns for 'The New Yorker.' They were written in 70's and early 80's, so the subjects are old. For instance, Sting (and the Police) and Boy George (and Culture Club) were gaining popularity in the book. But she already established her crisp and dynamic and music-like prose style. It's my pleasure to read her candid and sometimes sarcastic comments about snobs. It's my pleasure to read her stories about her native country, Antigua, and her parents. She wrote the stories as her friend's stories (remember that those were anonymous columns), but they were of her own prose style.

I read all of her books, and I don't like much her previous book, 'My Garden,' but I enjoyed 'Talk Stories.'
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