Black Glass

Black Glass

5.0 1
by Karen Joy Fowler

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Carry Nation is on the loose again, breaking up discos, smashing topless bars, radicalizing women as she preaches clean living to men more intent on booze and babes. As for Mrs. Gulliver, her patience with her long-voyaging Lemuel is wearing thin: money is short and the kids can't even remember what their dad looks like. And what of Tonto, the ever-faithful companion,…  See more details below


Carry Nation is on the loose again, breaking up discos, smashing topless bars, radicalizing women as she preaches clean living to men more intent on booze and babes. As for Mrs. Gulliver, her patience with her long-voyaging Lemuel is wearing thin: money is short and the kids can't even remember what their dad looks like. And what of Tonto, the ever-faithful companion, turning forty without so much as a birthday phone call from that masked man? In fifteen short fictions, Karen Joy Fowler turns accepted norms inside out and fairy tales upside down, pushing us to reconsider all our unquestioned verities and proving once more that she is among our most subversive writers of fiction. Filled with imaginative virtuosity, replete with wicked insights and cunning conceits, Black Glass delivers everything readers have come to expect of her fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gifted novelist Fowler (Sarah Canary and The Sweetheart Season) delights in the arcane, and, as a result, these 15 clever tales are occasionally puzzling but never dull. In the long title story, temperance activist Carry Nation is resurrected in the 1990s ("We're talking about a very troubled, very big woman," says one shaken barman to reporters) and becomes such a nuisance that the DEA is forced to dispatch her with voodoo. Other plots are only slightly less outrageous in conceit. In "Lieserl," a lovesick madwoman dupes Albert Einstein into believing he has a daughter; in "The Faithful Companion at Forty," Tonto admits to second thoughts about his biggest life choice ("But for every day, for your ordinary life, a mask is only going to make you more obvious. There's an element of exhibitionism in it"). "The Travails" offers a peek at the one-sided correspondence of Mary Gulliver, who wants Lemuel to come home already and help out around the house. The homage to Swift makes sense, for, when Fowler doesn't settle for amusing her readers, she makes a lively satirist. The extraterrestrials who appear in her stories (whether the inscrutably sadistic monsters in "Duplicity" or the members of a seminar studying late-1960s college behavior in "The View From Venus: A Case Study") seem stand-ins for the author herself, who, in elegant and witty prose, cultivates the eye of a curious alien and, along the way, unfolds eccentric plots that keep the pages turning. (Feb.)
Library Journal
This stunning collection of stories by the author of Sarah Canary (LJ 5/1/92) so carefully intertwines the ordinary with the extraordinary that what should seem incredible is fully believable. Though the stories may appear to be about a DEA agent who unwittingly revives the spirit of Carry A. Nation, two women held captive by aliens in the Brazilian rain forest, a magic potion made from a unicorn's horn, or a classroom of Venusians learning about Earthly love, at their core they are about human relationships and all the more startling for their insight from seemingly unrelated points. A few pieces puzzle more than they enlighten, but the reader may be motivated to return to them for a slower reading. Highly recommended.Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Idaho Lib., Moscow
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen ferociously imaginative and provocative new stories from the author of a previous collection (Artificial Things, not reviewed) and the highly regarded novels Sarah Canary (1991) and The Sweetheart Season (1996). There are three different kinds of stories here: vignettes that elliptically portray women's fantasies of escaping the figurative (and sometimes literal) prisons men build for them; more fully developed tales of girls and women in and out of love with variously disappointing partners; and revisionist comedies (Fowler has been called "an American Angela Carter"), in which the fantastic and magical-realist elements that crop up in her novels are central and crucial. The best of these latter include the title story, where temperance crusader Carry Nation returns to life, to the consternation of a henpecked DEA agent; the moving "Lieserl," in which Albert Einstein learns of the birth of his illegitimate daughter, but excuses his neglect by claiming "experience is a hindrance to the scientist"; and "The Faithful Companion at Forty," a piece distinguished both by wickedly rendered contemporary psychobabble and by Tonto's exasperation over the Lone Ranger's disrespect for him ("You want to bet even Attila the Hun had a party on his fortieth?"). Fowler stumbles with murky stories about impaired father-daughter relationships ("The Elizabeth Complex," "Go Back") and in an overattenuated exploration of young moderns' sexual politics and role-playing ("The View from Venus: a case study"). But she's at her best in a heart-tugging story of a woman war-protestor's separation from the pacifist intellectual who was the love of her youth ("Letters from Home"); the fascinating"Duplicity," about a woman who seeksand unfortunately findsan alternative to her unadventurous lover; and "Game Night at the Fox and Goose," in which an abandoned pregnant woman's encounter with a female who promises her entry into "another universe where the feminist force was just a little stronger" reaches an astonishing climax. Accomplished, risk-taking, exciting new work from one of our most interesting writers.

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Ballantine Reader's Circle Series
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

It was a Wednesday afternoon in the Senate Bar. Schilling, the proprietor, stood behind the curved counter, stroking the shot glasses with a towel. Every part of the bar was reflected in the mirror wall behind him: the marble and black onyx floor, the oiled cherry-wood counter, the brass bar rail. A chandelier hung in the center of the ceiling. Rows of cut-glass decanters filled the shelves. Schilling ran his towel over their glass stoppers. In the corner, on the big screen, Cher danced and sang a song for the U.S. Navy. Schilling had the sound off.

There were three customers. Two sat together at a table near the door. They were businessmen. One of them smoked. Both of them drank.

Every time either of them picked up his glass and set it down again, he made a new wet ring on the table between them. They were careful to keep the spreadsheet out of the water.

The third customer, a college student, sat at the bar, drinking his way through an unexpected romance with a woman old enough to be his mother. He'd asked Schilling to bring him three drinks at once, three different drinks--a Bloody Mary, a Sex on the Beach, a Velvet Hammer. As a compromise, Schilling had brought him the Bloody Mary and put in a MTV tape, picture only, out of deference to the businessmen and as a matter of personal preference.

A fourth man came into the Senate Bar from the street. A shaft of sunlight sprang into the room when the door opened and vanished when it closed. "Give me a drink," the man said to Schilling.

Schilling glanced at the man briefly as he polished the wood bar with his sleeve. "Get out of here."

"Give me a drink."

The man wasdirty and dressed in several tattered layers, which still left a bare hole the size of a tennis ball above one knee. He was smoking the stubby end of a cigarette. It was not his cigarette; there was lipstick on the filter. He had retrieved this cigarette from the sidewalk outside the bar. "You pay your tab first," said Schilling.

"I don't have any money," said the man. Cher closed her eyes and opened her mouth.

"Where's my Sex on the Beach?" asked the boy.

"You're disturbing my customers," Schilling told the man at the door. "You're stinking up my bar." He reached under the counter for a bottle of gin.

"He gave me my first drink," the man at the door said to the boy at the bar. "I used to be just like you." He took two steps into the room, leaving two gritty footprints on the black onyx. "Finish what you started," he told Schilling.

"Get out," Schilling said.

The boy rolled a quarter down his nose and let it drop, catching it loudly in his empty Bloody Mary glass. "Can I get another drink?" he asked. "Am I going to get another drink?"

A second shaft of sunlight appeared in the room, collided with the mirrored wall. Inside the sunlight, barely visible, Cher danced.

She turned her back. Schilling heard a woman scream, and then the Cher in the mirror broke into five pieces and fell behind the counter. The sunlight disappeared. "Madam," said Schilling, hardly breathing, in shock. A nightmare dressed in black stood at the door of his bar, a nightmare in the shape of an enormous postmenopausal woman. In one hand she held a hatchet. She reached into the bodice of her dress with the other and pulled out a large stone. She wore a bonnet with black ribbons.

"Glory be to God!" shouted the woman. "Peace on Earth! Goodwill to men!" She hit the big screen dead center with the rock. The screen cracked and smoked, made spitting noises, blackened. She took a step, swept the cigarette from the shabby man's mouth with one hand. "Don't poison the air with your filthy gases!" she said. Then she held her hatchet at the vertical. She charged into the bar, clearing the counter. Maraschino cherries and stuffed olives flew. "Madam!" said Schilling. He ducked.

"You purveyor and protector of obscenity!" the woman shouted. "Has your mother ever been to this place?" The boy at the bar slipped from his stool and ran for the rear door. In three steps the woman caught him. She picked him up by the neck of his sweater as if he were a kitten, throwing him to his knees. She knelt over him, singing. "Touch not, taste not, handle not. Drink will make the dark, dark blot." He struggled, and she let him go, calling after him, "Your mother did not raise you for this!" The back door slammed.

The businessmen had taken cover under their table. Schilling remained out of sight. The shabby man was gone. The woman began, methodically, with her hatchet to destroy the bar. She punctured the decorative keg behind the counter and then, apparently disappointed to find it empty, she brought her hatchet down on the counter, severing a spigot from one of the hoses. A fountain of soda exploded into the air. She broke the decanters. Pools of liquor flowed over the marble and onyx floor. The woman's bonnet slipped to the side of her head.

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Black Glass 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Karen Joy Fowler writes short fiction that can just knock you out. These short stories range across America, and further out. Her short stories are different from her novels, they're both quick-witted, funny, draw you in, but the stories are more likely to leave you winded and wondering about the world afterward.