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Thunderstruck & Other Stories Hardcover – April 22, 2014
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When family friends become bitter enemies, the consequences are deadly. Learn More
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“Stunningly beautiful . . . brilliantly moving . . . Moments of joy and pure magic flicker and pitch-perfect humor acts as a furtive SOS signal through the fog of loss.”—Los Angeles Times
“[A] bewitching and wise collection . . . playful, even joyful.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Each of Thunderstruck’s nine stories is a storm: delightful and destructive, packed with electricity, fascinating to watch unfold.”—Salon
“The stories here are brilliant, funny and heartbreaking. . . . Elizabeth McCracken is a national treasure.”—Paul Harding, The Wall Street Journal
“Pure delight: one lyrical, impeccably constructed sentence after another.”—Chicago Tribune
“Beautifully wrought . . . As painstaking as a watchmaker, McCracken disassembles life down to its smallest parts.”—The Boston Globe
“The stories in Elizabeth McCracken’s latest collection land as swift and true as a prizefighter’s blows, and often they feel just as powerful, emotionally speaking. . . . The psychological punches McCracken delivers, with her keen sense of irony and mordant humor, are unforgettable.”—The Miami Herald
“The draw here is mesmerizing strangeness, heightened by McCracken’s extraordinary images. . . . McCracken’s description of eyeglasses which are ‘the opposite of the weather: overcast when it was bright, clear when it was cloudy’ will color the way you see transition lenses as surely as her off-kilter tales will subtly shade your view of love and parenting. . . . McCracken explores her characters' subtexts even as she catches them in the car wrecks of their lives. To resist gawking is hopeless. Brace yourself for rubbernecking delays.”—NPR
“Elizabeth McCracken is one of my favorite writers. Or, to put it another way: I’ve read everything she’s written . . . and there’s nothing I haven’t liked and admired enormously. . . . She writes with acuity, soul, and a kind of easy grace that probably kills her, about characters she has created to love. . . . ‘Thunderstruck’ showcases all the things this remarkable writer is so good at: the eccentric but illuminating metaphors, the deft characterization, the heart-lurching narrative development, the tenderness, the fantastic aphorisms. . . . Anything new by her is an excuse for wild, drunken celebration.”—Nick Hornby, The Believer
“These gorgeous stories are so full of human oddity and surprising emotions. . . . [Thunderstruck & Other Stories] is alive with wit and feeling.”—Newsday
“Brilliant . . . captivating . . . electrifying . . . Let’s not forget the meticulous qualities of McCracken’s sinuous prose, or the ingenuity of her plots.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“McCracken’s stories are fresh, peculiar and always entertaining.”—The Huffington Post
“McCracken writes gorgeously sharp and insistent prose; her stories dazzle, uniquely angled and original.”—More
“[Elizabeth McCracken] writes sentences so beautiful you’ll want to stand up and applaud. I underlined so many phrases and details my copy is a mess, but that still didn’t keep me from lending it to my best friend. . . . McCracken’s revelatory prose style makes it impossible for even the bleakest story lines to feel like anything short of a blessing.”—Cosmopolitan
“There’s a strange magic . . . in Elizabeth McCracken’s work.”—Reader’s Digest
“Haunting . . . McCracken assigns herself the task of showing her readers that there is no prescribed way to grieve or to love.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Extraordinary . . . In story after story, McCracken looks at the complexity of grief. At the same time, her quick eye never misses the strange little joys life comes up with.”—The Dallas Morning News
“It’s a rare story collection that starts strong and ends up even stronger. In her new book, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, award-winning novelist Elizabeth McCracken achieves this result through a combination of nonchalance, empathy and sheer intelligence. . . . There’s no dearth of fine authors who have taken to writing short stories of late. Few, however, possess McCracken’s full palette of hues, tones and shadows. This is three-dimensional writing at its most vivid.”—Portland Press Herald
“Magnetic . . . Anyone who enjoys short fiction will find pleasure and substance in McCracken’s witty, world-wise collection.”—Library Journal
“[Elizabeth] McCracken’s short stories are like no others. Her distinctive voice, her slightly askew manner of looking at the world, her mix of mordant humor and tenderness, her sense of life’s ironies, and the jolt of electricity at the end of each tale make her work arresting and memorable. . . . Readers will enjoy reading them twice—the first time quickly, because the plots are mesmerizing and strange, and the second to relish the dozens of images, aperçus, and descriptions. . . . McCracken transforms life’s dead ends into transformational visions.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Marvelously quirky, ironic, but, most of all, poignant . . . McCracken paints [her characters] with such rich detail that it feels as if we must know them.”—Booklist
“A bracing collection . . . The connecting notion—that love’s great capacity for tenderness must bear the risk of pain—is depicted with both joy and ruthlessness.”—Shelf Awareness
“Elizabeth McCracken’s magnificent stories are in a category all their own. They tremble with life, quake with heart-rending emotion, shine with wicked humor, and linger with a beautiful urgency. Thunderstruck & Other Stories is a stunning collection, a powerhouse of invention and heart and rare, buoyant curiosity.”—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
“It’s rare for title and book to work so well, in fact so perfectly, together. In this vibrant, darkly funny, deeply tender collection, the reader is thunderstruck, again and again, by Elizabeth McCracken’s endless gifts of plot, prose and insight that is as compassionate and sharp as one can bear.”—Amy Bloom, bestselling author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out and Away
Top Customer Reviews
I don't try to summarize all the short stories included as that seems tedious. I'll try to give you some highlights. As I've said there aren't really any happy stories in here that I can recall. One involves a boy who goes missing and likely is murdered. Another features a broke husband and wife whose alcoholic son is going to sell their house out from under them. Another is about a man dying of cancer who goes to visit the documentary director who ruined his life. Another is about a woman who disappears, leaving her teenaged son to his own devices. The titular story is about a family visiting France and the terrible accident that befalls their daughter. (Also a lot of the stories involve France, which is probably something overly patriotic Americans, the kind who eat "freedom fries" wouldn't like.)
The titular story could probably make a good Jodi Picoult novel that is then broadcast for the Lifetime network with a lot of crying and screaming and whatnot. Instead of over dramatizing, McCracken focuses on what I would consider more real emotions to the situation. The mother hates what her daughter has become and the burden she will become. The father's hope blinds him from the obvious. The rest of the stories are similar in that regard, never getting over-the-top with the drama.
The downside to this is the stories have a dry feeling to them. Many feel as if they're being told from a great distance, like you're reading a newspaper article about a blog entry about something that happened. Or maybe you could think of it as instead of something happening to you or your loved ones it's like hearing about something that's happened to your second cousin you see at family reunions, funerals, and weddings. Which is I suppose why people gravitate to over dramatizing.
That is all.
McCracken’s short stories in this collection include:
Something Amazing - one mother grieves the loss of her daughter years before while another has two delinquent sons
Property - a man moves into a rented house thinking it was furnished with the owner's discarded possessions.
Some Terpsichore - an abusive former lover is recalled with nostalgia and pain.
Juliet - librarians react to the murder of one of their patrons
The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs - a man learns his son has broken his trust
Hungry - a woman cares for her granddaughter while her son lies in the hospital
The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston - deals with how a memory can be viewed differently by different people
Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey - a dying man visits a former friend
Thunderstruck - a father and mother struggle to be good parents for their daughter only to then have to deal with the brain injury resulting from her actions
All of the stories feature a slightly oblique point-of-view, as if the normal world is just ever-so-subtly tilted but enough to change perceptions into a reality that seems far removed from the ordinary. McCracken's extraordinary writing ability helps propel the stories forward even as they seem off kilter with life's ironies. She manages to capture despair, tenderness, outrage, and hopefulness, with her keen insight into human behavior and emotions. Everyone is coping with something with various degrees of success, while memory plays tricks on more than one character in this volume.
Some of these short stories were previously published in Granta, Ploughshares, Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, The Pushcart Prize, and The Best American Stories.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.
Although the prose is beautiful, there is a distance from the characters. I never was engaged with them. Intellectually I understood and appreciated but the lack of emotional involvement deprived me of the catharsis needed to make this a totally successful reading experience. It is one thing to articulate a situation but totally another to communicate on a visceral level. While I understood the emotion, I did not feel the searing pain of loss or the ache of regret. Still the superior craftsmanship makes this collection a worthwhile read.