Blues and Trouble: Twelve Stories

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Overview

In this extraordinary first book of stories, Tom Piazza delivers a tough and haunting vision of an America where the social, emotional, and spiritual ground shifts constantly underfoot. Set in Memphis, Florida, New York, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Blues And Trouble offers a series of startling portraits - the troubled family of a Gulf Coast fisherman awaits a hurricane, a Jewish couple visiting the South encounter a dealer in Nazi memorabilia, an aging rock and roll piano player confronts an adoring specter from...
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Overview

In this extraordinary first book of stories, Tom Piazza delivers a tough and haunting vision of an America where the social, emotional, and spiritual ground shifts constantly underfoot. Set in Memphis, Florida, New York, New Orleans, and elsewhere, Blues And Trouble offers a series of startling portraits - the troubled family of a Gulf Coast fisherman awaits a hurricane, a Jewish couple visiting the South encounter a dealer in Nazi memorabilia, an aging rock and roll piano player confronts an adoring specter from his past - alternating with a series of "blueses," shorter, voice-driven pieces that evoke a unique and uncanny mood of longing.

Fans of Denis Johnson and Thom Jones will enjoy these 12 startling stories that range over the breadth of the American landscape. A dialogue between traditional stories pitched in unusual keys and a series of "blueses"--short, voice-driven pieces that evoke a unique and uncanny mood of longing--Blues and Trouble offers a unique shock of both surprise and recognition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In ``Burn Me Up,'' the most effective of the 12 achingly moody stories in this virtuoso collection, Memphis city councilman Archie Lucas recalls the spring of 1948, when he felt ``a sense of longing and possibility mixed with a strange directionlessness.'' His ennui is later shattered by the rock-and-roll voice of Billy Sundown on the radio. Raunchy Billy is Archie's former schoolmate, and his Jerry Lee Lewis-style fame and troubles have propelled him into a peripatetic world of backwater lounges. The painful counterpoint of these two lives resounds through this and other pieces that contrast pure-on-the-road blues and frustratingly settled existences. Set in motion by the soul-sapping ``Brownsville,'' in which the narrator sits alone in a steamy New Orleans bar and vows to quit running when he gets to dusty Brownsville, a town he has chosen ``because I've got no reason to go there,'' these stories are sequenced in perfect call-and-response rhythm. Piazza has found the common American experience in the attachment-detachment struggle. Ranging from New York City to coastal Texas to Santa Monica, and crisscrossing through Memphis, he draws into his edgy cosmology characters from disparate segments of our population, what Stanley Crouch in his introduction calls ``so many out-of-tune lives'': the diaspora Jew trapped in the commuter ethos (``A Servant of Culture'') as well as the Tennessee trucker who can't act ``right'' in sedate Ohio society (``Memphis''). If there is a flaw here, it is that women are depicted only as speed bumps that throw men off course. Told in a clear tenor voice, Piazza's first collection is as wonderfully dislocating as an all-night drive. Piazza is a recipient of a 1995-96 James Michener Award. (Feb.)
Library Journal
These 12 stories, some of which have appeared in Story or American Short Fiction, provide readers with a glimpse of a cross section of contemporary Americans looking for meaning in their troubled lives. The stories share travel as a common motif with each character searching outside her- or himself for happiness. We are taken into the abject life of an entertainer named Billy Sundown and witness his unusual effect on the life of a former classmate; a Gulf Coast fisherman having an affair with a college instructor safeguards his home and family against a threatening hurricane; a businessman unknowingly carries a loaded gun into his girlfriend's home for Thanksgiving; and a pair of Jewish tourists in Memphis stumble into a shop with Nazi memorabilia. The author's terse style paints a revealing picture of our perplexed culture. Piazza's first book revives the essence of the short story and allows readers, unlike the characters, to "sit still and look inside yourself." Recommended for all collections.-David A. Beron, Westbrook Coll. Lib., Portland, Me.
Mary Ellen Quinn
A sense of displacement pervades the stories in this first collection. Alhough many of the stories are set in the South, they are not specifically southern. Most often, they take place between here and there, both geographically and figuratively. Specific locales or epiphanous moments might be the road to Daytona Beach, as in "Born Yesterday" ; a high-school gym where evacuees take shelter during a storm in "Port Isabel Hurricane" ; or, in "Bum Me Up," a middle-aged man's encounter with a Jerry Lee Lewistype singer whom he knew as a child and has held as an icon over the years. Characters tend to be outsiders, often on the run, sometimes from failed relationships. Sometimes, too, the most enduring relationships are also the most unlikely, as in "CSA," in which a white antique-store owner, a dealer in Confederate memorabilia, and his black assistant have a perfect understanding. The stories are strengthened by a specificity of detail only occasionally lapsing into overexplanation.
From the Publisher
"The lonely, restless pursuit of a liberating future is a staple of American fiction. Every so often, through clarity of vision, keenness of ear, and sheer elan, a writer shakes it to life again, which is exactly what Tom Piazza has done...This is a terrific debut. More, please." —Peter Franck, The Washington Post Book World

"Tom Piazza plays variations on both the form and the traditional content of the blues...In a few notes he can summon up a character's voice or create a locale: a New Orleans cafe, a New York music company, a Gulf Coast fishing port." —Michael Harris, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In these stories, Tom Piazza is touching the grain of actual, as opposed to imaginary, human life. He sees both the pain and the humor, the tragic as well as the comic." —James Alan McPherson, Ploughshares

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312139346
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 186
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.47 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword
Brownsville 1
Born Yesterday 9
C.S.A. 33
A Servant of Culture 45
Memphis 63
Responsibility 83
Moment 105
Port Isabel Hurricane 113
Burn Me Up 133
Losing Hand 157
Slowing Down 165
Charley Patton 187
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