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First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa: Stories [NOOK Book]


With the stories in her first collection, Elizabeth Stuckey-French establishes herself as a smart new voice in American fiction and stakes her claim to a territory somewhere on the edge of stability, where normal is not just boring but nearly impossible, and where standing out in a crowd may just cause isolation.

Her characters, mostly Midwesterners, are bizarre but endearing. A reform school graduate is placed in the care of her psychic aunt ...
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First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa: Stories

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With the stories in her first collection, Elizabeth Stuckey-French establishes herself as a smart new voice in American fiction and stakes her claim to a territory somewhere on the edge of stability, where normal is not just boring but nearly impossible, and where standing out in a crowd may just cause isolation.

Her characters, mostly Midwesterners, are bizarre but endearing. A reform school graduate is placed in the care of her psychic aunt and in the servitude of a lucrative dog retrieval scheme. A mother who has accepted her son’s modest employment selling blue jeans bemoans the above-board lifestyle she discovers him leading as a wanted criminal. A rehab counselor lives vicariously through her already pregnant stepdaughter’s love affair with a drunk who spends his days in recovery and his nights in the bar.

Full of wry wit, tender sympathy, and heartland attitude, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa is as strange, funny, and poignant as the real world it resembles.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Talk hosts like Jenny Jones or Jerry Springer have accustomed Americans to attention-demanding characters and bizarre incidents...Stuckey-French bests those spectacles of the everyday absurd, and does so with style and verve.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
A "wonderful" debut short-story collection peopled with "a jelly bean selection" of "eccentric" characters in offbeat situations. Characterized as "lovable and wacky," our readers can't wait for Stuckey-French's debut novel. "This book deserves attention!"
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative debut collection of 12 edgy, effectively varied tales, many set in what appears to be their author's home state of Indiana. Rigorous understatement is Stuckey-French's game, and the few comparatively flat stories here either don't move far enough away from their ho-hum premises or don't develop potentially intriguing situations. Respective examples are "Blessing," in which a middle-aged father's outing with his college-student son only hints at the ironies of age offering reassurances, if not certainties, to youth; and "Scavenger Hunt," an overattenuated black comedy that implicitly compares a long-divorced woman's neurotic instability to both the title game and TV's lowbrow mock-documentary Unsolved Mysteries. The searching "Electric Wizard" builds a contrast between a poetry teacher's relationship with her two young daughters and the bereaved couple—parents of a student who has killed himself—who importune her for proof "that his suicidal behavior arose from sheer genius." But it feels like a half-finished version of a longer, more detailed story. A comparable thickness of conception and implication appears in several pieces, and works best in "Junior," a carefully controlled portrayal of a moody juvenile misfit who's initially attracted to, then discouraged by, her extended family's eccentricity and needfulness; "The Visible Man," in which a widow passively resigned to life in an old age home finds opportunities for mischief and a kind of control in her "friendship" with her suggestible former employer; and the superb "Search and Rescue":awonderfully imagined story, developed in an unusual and very moving way, that skillfully charts the tensions between two very different office co-workers: a volunteer scuba driver dedicated to retrieving drowning victims, and a lonely younger woman chained to the family demands imposed by her father, a helpless Alzheimer's victim. A bit uneven, then, but strong debut. One hopes Stuckey-French will soon test her gift for exploring arrestingly unconventional characters and conflicts in the ampler latitudes of the novel.
From the Publisher
“A wonderfully original voice.”–Chicago Tribune

“Remarkable for its range, humor, and quirkiness.”–USA Today

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307428615
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • File size: 303 KB

Meet the Author

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Elizabeth Stuckey-French has been awarded a James Michener Fellowship, and her stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and other literary magazines. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

THE CITY pool was full of children that day, but I don't think that's what bothered me. I was fourteen and happy to be out with my friends. It was sunny but cool for mid-July in Iowa. A breeze flipped up the edges of our beach towels as we lined them up on the crumbling cement, anchoring them with clogs, a bottle of coconut oil, and a transistor radio which seemed to play nothing but Sammy Davis, Jr., singing "The Candy Man." My friends flopped down on their backs and fell asleep, but I couldn't relax. I sat cross-legged in my faded bikini, a hand-me-down from my sister Daisy.

Daisy was lifeguarding, but she couldn't see me, didn't even know I was there. She looked like a stranger perched above the masses in her red tank suit and mirror sunglasses, her nose a triangle of zinc oxide. In one month, she was going away to college, leaving me to take care of our father. I couldn't let myself think about how dreary life would be without Daisy. I gazed out at the pool, which was circular, with the deep part and diving island in the center. A group of four or five children splashed around at the edge of the deep water, shrieking and dunking each other. A smaller girl in a green one-piece bathing suit dog-paddled near the splashers, barely keeping her chin above water. She wanted to play too, but the other children--friends? neighbors? sisters and brothers?--ignored her. Teenagers were doing cannonballs off the high dive, and their waves sloshed over her head. Nobody except me seemed to notice. The girl was paddling as hard as she could, getting nowhere.

I stood up and waded into the water, which reeked of chlorine, and began swimming the breaststroke toward the group of children, holding my head up as a snake does. The older kids moved off toward the slide, leaving the little girl behind. When she saw me, she opened her eyes wide and reached out. I didn't have a clue how to rescue someone. I took her hand and she clawed her way up my arm. She was on me like a monkey. Her legs swung up and wrapped around my neck, dunking me, choking me. I tried to stand, but I couldn't touch bottom. She kicked me, hard, in the jaw. I shoved her away but she held on to me. I'd had enough of this kind of treatment. My hand gripped her head like a rubber ball. I held her underwater and watched her thin body squirming in its green ruffled suit.

Someone finally screamed, and the lifeguards began blowing their whistles. Daisy dove from her chair in a red flash. Still I held the girl under. It's too late now, was the only thought I remember having. A man tackled me from behind, and Daisy jerked the girl from the water. The man gripped me tightly to his blubbery chest, as if I were trying to run away. Over on the cement Daisy knelt beside the girl and gave her mouth-to-mouth. After a few seconds Daisy stood up, holding the squalling girl, stroking her wet hair. The ruffles on the girl's suit were flipped up and plastered to her body. "Daisy," I called out. When Daisy looked over at me, her face slack with shock, I realized what I'd done.

Everything after that seemed nightmarish but inevitable. Daisy and I were taken up to the pool manager's office, dripping wet, to sit in plastic chairs and wait for the police. The detective who came wore a velour shirt and looked familiar, like someone I might've seen at church. Daisy reported what had happened in a businesslike voice, while I stared at the tufts of hair on my big toes, wondering if I should shave them. The detective asked me if I had anything to add. "She tried to drown me first," I said.

"That's not how the witnesses tell it," he said.

I glanced over at Daisy. "Sorry," she said, ever the honest one. "I didn't see that part."

At my hearing, we sat on a bench in front of the juvenile judge--first the detective, then my father, hanging his head, then my sister Daisy, her arm around my father, and then me. My mother, who'd washed her hands of us, didn't show. Because of my previous record--shoplifting and truancy--the judge decided to send me to the Cary Home in Des Moines for one school year.

The Cary Home for Girls was an elegant brick house tucked into a cul-de-sac on the edge of an upper-class neighborhood. From the outside, you'd never know it contained six teenage delinquents and their live-in counselors. We bad girls attended class in the large attic of the house, ate pizza burgers, did homework together, and watched reruns of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." It hardly felt like punishment.

At night, though, things fell apart. I had relentless dreams about Lisa Lazar, the little girl from the pool. She came to the Cary Home in her ruffled bathing suit and invited me outside to play. When she smiled, crooking her finger at me, I woke up terrified. I would stare at the buzzing streetlight outside my bedroom window and wonder what someone like me was doing at the Cary Home, someone who, until recently, had played by the rules, was fairly popular, had a semi-cute boyfriend, and tried her best to get decent grades.

In April, near the end of my stay at Cary Home, my father called to tell me that his sister, Marie-Therese, was coming to see me. "She wants to help out," he said. I'd never met my aunt before. She and my father exchanged Christmas cards and birthday phone calls, but that was about it. "Marie stays on the move. She's a wheeler-dealer," was my father's only explanation of why we never saw her. I wasn't sure what a wheeler-dealer was, but it sounded intriguing.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    The author has a gift for effortlessly creating characters. Love

    The author has a gift for effortlessly creating characters. Loved her descriptions of midwestern milieu. I was impressed by her ability to switch between first person and third person to equal effect.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2003

    Clever Stuckey-French

    Bizarre ¿¿characters who walk a thin line between reality and delusion¿ make <u>The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa</u> a lovable, funny and pleasurable read. Elizabeth Stuckey-French writes a unique book filled with witty stories and characters that delight readers. The flowing theme of Stuckey-French¿s novel, ¿¿Midwesters trying to make sense of a changing world,¿ is portrayed by these characters that find their way out of sticky, uncommon situations. The entrancing style of writing, smart and wry, pleases the reader¿s mind, and puts their world into an awkward yet enjoyable vibe. One can become any of Stuckey-French¿s personalities due to the ample amount of detail she utilizes in her stories. Detail also sparks imagery that can be seen in any reader¿s imagination. <u>The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa</u> takes on an inspiring and whimsical tone. With novel characters that are easy to relate to, one is inspired by each of their tales. The connection between reader and character can help seek new ways of changing life for the better. This book influences an individual to escape convoluted situations by extraordinary characters. Each has an endearing path to a solution.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2002

    Loving It!!!

    This group of short stories should not be passed up! Instead of basic, stereotypical characters I found defined individuals and those who are still finding themselves. I'm anxiously waiting for more by this new, fresh author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2000

    an excellent novel by an excellent author

    this book is incredible! it is a must-buy from a author who's work i expect to see in every bookstore in america!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2010

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