Esther Stories

Overview

One of the most acclaimed and original story collections of the last decade, Peter Orner's first book explores the brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt us.

The discovery of a murdered man in a bathrobe by the side of a road, the destruction of a town's historic City Hall building, and the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner's vivid and intimate gaze. The first half of the book concerns the lives of unrelated strangers across the ...

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Esther Stories

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Overview

One of the most acclaimed and original story collections of the last decade, Peter Orner's first book explores the brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt us.

The discovery of a murdered man in a bathrobe by the side of a road, the destruction of a town's historic City Hall building, and the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner's vivid and intimate gaze. The first half of the book concerns the lives of unrelated strangers across the American landscape, and the second introduces two very different Jewish families, one on the East Coast, the other in the Midwest. Yet Orner's real territory is memory, and this book of wide-ranging and innovative stories remains an important and unique contribution to the art of the American short story.

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Editorial Reviews

Judy Doenges
Praise for ESTHER STORIES (2001)

"There's startling intimacy in every story of Peter Orner's debut collection."

Andre Dubus
"Some of Orner's very short stories are the best of that form that I have read since Isaac Babel's."
Dennis Lehane
"If the short story were in need of a future, it has been found in Peter Orner."
Charles Baxter
"These are stories of unusual delicacy and beauty, and this is a remarkable collection."
From the Publisher
Praise for ESTHER STORIES (2001)

"There's startling intimacy in every story of Peter Orner's debut collection."—Judy Doenges, Washington Post

"I was stunned by a sentence or two in every one of the works in Esther Stories."Rick Moody, The Hartford Courant

"A luminous debut collection. . . .Like Amy Bloom and Charles Baxter, Orner has a gift for revealing how the tragic and the mundane occupy equal berths in our limited mental space."—John Freeman, Chicago Tribune

"Some of Orner's very short stories are the best of that form that I have read since Isaac Babel's."—Andre Dubus

"If the short story were in need of a future, it has been found in Peter Orner."—Dennis Lehane

"These are stories of unusual delicacy and beauty, and this is a remarkable collection."—Charles Baxter

"Orner doesn't simply bring his characters to life, he gives them souls."—Margot Livesey, New York Times Book Review

Margot Livesey
The skillful deployment of history and geography has much to do with the success of Esther Stories, but all would be in vain were it not for Orner's mastery of language. He moves, seemingly effortlessly, between plain speech and more elevated diction, between short, flat sentences and sinuous, long ones. Best of all, Orner is a true democrat. Most of his characters struggle to hang onto even one of the fundamental rights life, love, the pursuit of happiness but every character, young or old, well-to-do or broke, maimed or whole, is worthy of the author's insight and eloquence.
nytimes.com
Publishers Weekly
Innovative, original and fresh as a breath of perfumed summer air, these 34 stories capture pure emotion so vividly they tremble with contained life. Orner, who was published in The Best American Short Stories 2001 and has received a Pushcart Prize, creates characters so real that readers sense they could not only recognize them on the street, but also see into their troubled hearts. The tales collected here cover a lot of geographical ground - one group is set in Fall River, Mass., others in Chicago, while some veer away as far as Nova Scotia and Mississippi - but Orner teaches us that people everywhere share the same sorrows and joys. "Cousin Tuck's" is a heartbreaking tale of two misfits, Tito and Nadine, who find each other again. "[S]ome nights he'd take her home. Most guys gave him no grief - hell, a warm body's a warm body. In Boston in February, there's guys who sleep with frozen squirrel corpses." In "Atlantic City," a nurse comes home at lunch to find her husband dead and can remember him only on the beach in Atlantic City years before, in an almost unbearably bittersweet reverie. In the even shorter "Shoe Story," which is reminiscent of the late Richard Brautigan, a man recalls a overheard long ago, which ended with a woman throwing a pair of shoes out of the window into the street just by his restaurant table. "[T]hose shoes were angels dispatched to rescue ourselves from our own grease-soaked and burbling-over hearts." This extraordinarily fine collection should establish Orner as a new star of American short fiction. Author tour. (Nov. 2). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This affecting debut collection presents 34 stories, many no more than a page or two long, that span America. Though the physical territory covered is broad, the emotional probing of the characters is the high point here. The book is divided into four parts: the first two concern the lives of unrelated strangers; the last two present two assimilated Jewish families, one on the East Coast, the other in the Midwest. In the title story, the narrator tries to form a picture of his dead Aunt Esther with fragments of anecdotes: "I study an old high school picture of Esther and find it difficult to believe that the portly, angry, hollow-eyed woman who lived in my grandparents' basement throughout the 1980s is this person who looks so much like Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: seductive, sweaty, a little nasty, a little pouty." Recommended for most libraries. Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316224680
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/23/2013
  • Pages: 229
  • Sales rank: 696,937
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Orner is the author of two other books, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, and Love and Shame and Love. Some of the stories in Esther Stories first appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Epoch, North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southern Review, among other periodicals. One was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 2001, and another in The Pushcart Prize XXVI. Orner was born in Chicago and now lives in San Francisco.

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Read an Excerpt


Excerpt


Initials Etched on a Dining-Room Table, Lockeport, Nova Scotia


The girl was young when she did it, and she didn't live there. This was in 1962. She was eighteen. She'd been hired to tidy the place. It was three, maybe four years before anybody noticed. The letters were so small, and they always ate in the kitchen. And when they did discover them, she was already gone to Halifax. By that time the girl had a reputation to escape from. So when they put two and two together and figured out it was she that did it, they weren't surprised. Of course she'd be the one to do something like this, they said — shameless girl, not shocking at all.

A cod fisherman, a captain, lived in the house with his wife, one of the original Locke mansions on Gurden Street overlooking the harbor. They never had children, but dust collects nonetheless in a house so huge. The girl had never been in a place that grand. At least that's what they told each other when they found her letters. RGL. That she'd wanted to leave her mark in the world, something that would last, something that would stay. The family still lived in town, her father and brothers sold hardware, so they could have held somebody accountable for the damage if they'd wanted to. But the captain and his wife talked it over and decided not to mention it to anyone. Not that they approved — Lord no. It was defacement of property.

Vandalism. Of course it was an heirloom; it had belonged to her mother's mother, a burnished mahogany drop-leaf built in York in 1844. They could never approve. But they were quiet people; they kept to themselves in the hard times, and even in the good times they held their distance. Besides, what could anybody do about it now? What was done was done. Still, that didn't mean the captain's wife didn't watch more carefully over the other girls who came to clean, and it didn't mean the captain didn't sometimes think of her sugar breath, that morning, the one out of a thousand when he was home and slept late — he'd startled her in the kitchen. Captain Adelbert! I didn't have any idea you were home, me banging the pots down here to wake the dead. His only intention was to touch her sweater (Lucy was out, still teaching school then), but he couldn't stop and kissed her, her hands at her sides. She didn't resist or desire, and that had made him a fool for years.

Yet over the longer years — when the fish became scarcer, when they'd long since failed their vow to fill that house with children, when the silences between them sometimes lasted hours, when the captain's wife no longer paced the house, waiting for him, or word of him — an odd thing. They still talked about the letters. RGL became a part of the table that had always been too good to eat on, as important as the deep swirls carved at the top of the legs. She. The simple fact of her once among them, among their things, dusting, opening closet doors, tracing her finger along the frames of the paintings in the front room. Taking a needle — she must have used a needle — and climbing up on the table, walking on her knees to a spot just off the center.

In the dark, now older, now retired, still in the house, they murmur: "She was a pretty girl, wasn't she?"

"Curls. Yes, yes. Got in trouble with the boys early on, didn't she?"

"What do you think the G stands for?"

"Gina? Gertrude?"

"Georgette?"

"Never came back here ever."

"No, never heard of it. Family acts like she never existed."

"Well. She was a disgrace, I suppose."

"Yes, well."

They both think of her. Sleep comes slowly. Now the captain coughs and twists. Age and too much time on land have made him restless, a man who was never restless, a man who had always slept the unmovable sleep of beached whales, now tossing and muttering, waking with sweat- wet hands, afraid. Now he dreams of drowning. And the captain's wife stares at the ceiling in the dark and thinks of leading a child, Rachel Larsh's child, an angry boy in new leather shoes, through the house, pointing out the captain's trophies, the swordfish he caught during that trip to the Pacific (on the wall in the library), the hidden staircase behind the summer kitchen, and here, see, look, beneath the vase he brought back from St. John, your mother's initials. And the boy not curious, shaking free his hand.


Excerpted from Esther Stories by Peter Orner. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Orner. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Initials Etched on a Dining-Room Table, Lockeport, Nova Scotia 3
Thumbs 6
In the Walls 14
Early November 17
Pile of Clothes 19
Papa Gino's 26
On a Bridge over the Homochitto 30
Cousin Tuck's 37
Two Poes 46
Shoe Story 56
Thursday Night at the Gopher Hole, April 1992 58
County Road G 66
At the Motel Rainbow 70
Sitting Theodore 81
At Horseneck Beach 93
Sarah 94
Walt Kaplan Reads Hiroshima, March 1947 97
Melba Kuperschmid Returns 104
Birth of a Son-in-Law 113
At the Conrad Hilton 118
Awnings, Bedspreads, Combed Yarns 124
High Priest at the Gates 131
In the Dark 133
Atlantic City 136
Providence 140
Michigan City, Indiana 153
The Raft 155
The House on Lunt Avenue 160
Daughters 170
My Father in an Elevator with Anita Fanska, August 1976 179
Seymour 182
The Moraine on the Lake 184
Esther Stories 186
The Waters 217
Acknowledgments 229
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