Born on a Train: Thirteen Stories

Overview

Two years ago?at twenty-two?John McManus captivated writers and critics with his first story collection and became the youngest recipient of the Whiting Writers Award. Now McManus returns with a collection of stories equally piercing and visionary: stories about the young and old, compromised by circumstance and curiosity, and undergoing startling transformations. In ?Eastbound,? a car driven by two elderly sisters breaks down on an elevated highway: Beneath them lies the lost country of the South, overrun with ...

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Born on a Train: Thirteen Stories

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Overview

Two years ago—at twenty-two—John McManus captivated writers and critics with his first story collection and became the youngest recipient of the Whiting Writers Award. Now McManus returns with a collection of stories equally piercing and visionary: stories about the young and old, compromised by circumstance and curiosity, and undergoing startling transformations. In “Eastbound,” a car driven by two elderly sisters breaks down on an elevated highway: Beneath them lies the lost country of the South, overrun with concrete and shopping centers but still possessing the spectres and secrets of the past. In “Brood,” a plucky young heroine moves with her mother into the home of the mother’s online boyfriend: She will use the Audubon Guide to Birds, and her own wits to survive the advances of the boyfriend’s teenaged son. In “Cowry,” two backpackers in New Zealand race to witness the first sunrise of the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

Joy Williams
John McManus's nervewracking prose has great pitch and daring...He's a wildly talented writer.
Publishers Weekly
The remains of the Old South slouch miserably toward the New South in this forceful but uneven second collection of stories by McManus (Stop Breakin Down). The cast of characters includes Knoxville, Tenn., junkies and an aging belle erotically fixated on her callow grandnephew, but McManus's focus is the redneck culture of the state, where guns, beer and pickups confront air-conditioned malls, minivans and female empowerment. Most of his central figures are doomed masculine exotics-a good ol' boy on a crime spree, a trailer-park patriarch obsessed with his aristocratic bloodline, a hillbilly whose land is seized for a national park-who hold dead-end service-sector jobs (if any), drink, and express their thwarted Confederate machismo in cruelty to animals. They are objects of fascination for young, sensitive, often gay point-of-view characters who convey the author's lyrical romance with this squalid milieu. McManus's sensibility is that of a Tennessee Williams writing about impoverished hillbillies instead of fading Southern gentlefolk. He has an ear for punchy, pungent dialect ("he stops and spits a wad of juice down on the wood, it smacked down on the boards just smack") which contrasts starkly with the lush imagery of his authorial voice. Unfortunately, his characters are sometimes white trash caricatures, his images are more intense than evocative ("affection... oozed from his fingertips like tobacco spit") and the narrative tends to sag under the weight of hallucinatory prose poems. McManus's vigorous handling of dialogue and setting do not always add up to compelling insights. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Backcountry doom and gloom in tales that strive for authenticity and occasionally achieve it. This second collection by the 24-year-old McManus (Stop Breakin’ Down, 2000) paints portraits of losers on their spirals into the depths—something that doesn’t always translate into must-read fiction. The opener, "Brood," concerns a teenaged girl whose mother has just moved in with her new boyfriend met over the Internet. The new beau’s son, Eammon, has malformed teeth and an ugly disposition, so of course he’s been hitting on her nonstop. Everyone talks at everyone else in half-understood ciphers, coded text that takes more time to decipher than one really wants to spend. In "Aurora," a young boy drives the freeways with his stickup-man father and pregnant, gloomy mother. They appear to be on a halfhearted sort of crime spree, the parents arguing and the father trying to keep his son’s spirits up. Meanwhile, this nuclear family thinks that the atmosphere outside is full of radiation, closing in on them like the law, who could be setting up roadblocks any minute: one of the better selections here, the story is a powerful portrait of the invisible forces waiting to engulf us all. One of the only pieces that breaks the mold is "Cowrie," about two young friends in Australia, one an Iranian immigrant who says that, during the Iran-Iraq war, he shot an uncounted number of Iraqi soldiers his age or younger. The two hitch a ride from a couple of good ol’ boys, the Iranian dressed up as a woman to entice drivers. Along the way, he tells the men about his exploits during the war, convincing them he’s female, and they speed off down the freeway, swapping stories. Again, it doesn’t come to much—and doesn’tleave much of an impression. McManus seems enamored of trapping his characters in hillbilly hell and stranding both them and readers there—for an inordinate amount of time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312301859
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

John McManus’s stories have appeared in the Oxford American, Tin House, and Ploughshares. He was raised in Blount County, Tennessee, and now lives in Austin, Texas.

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Table of Contents

Brood 1
Mr. Gas 29
Natcher Mountain 47
Fetch 55
Eastbound 73
The Earl of Credition 95
The Face of the Moon 123
Old Timer's Day 139
Aurora 143
A Flock of Bluebirds 163
Cowrie 195
Cades Cove 213
Dog's Egg 215
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