Gryphon: New and Selected Stories

( 5 )

Overview

Ever since the publication of his first story collection in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America?s finest short story writers. Gryphon brings together sixteen classics with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement. 

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Gryphon: New and Selected Stories

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Overview

Ever since the publication of his first story collection in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America’s finest short story writers. Gryphon brings together sixteen classics with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Baxter's skill with short fiction is confirmed in this stellar collection of 23 stories, seven of which are new. The title story is deservedly a classic, and other favorites, such as "Fenstad's Mother," have gathered resonance as well, and the new stories show Baxter working a quirky beat. In each, the acutely observed real world is rocked by the exotic or surreal. In "Poor Devil," the "devils" are a self-destructive couple headed for a divorce, while, in "Ghosts," a stranger enters a young woman's house and tells her they are soul mates. She accuses him of being a devil, but his intentions are much less sinister than she imagines. "Nightfall had always brought his devils out," the narrator says in "The Old Murderer," a touching story about an alcoholic and an ex-con, each trying to get through the day. In "Royal Blue," arguably the best of the new stories, an undertow of mystery shadows a handsome young art dealer who understands that 9/11 has affected a fundamental change in his life. In Baxter's comic-melancholic world, people may be incapable of averting sadness or violence, but they survive. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This collected work reminds us that Baxter shines in the short story form. Whereas his novels (e.g., The Feast of Love) are cinematic in tone, his stories read like unfinished journal entries from a secret diary. By allowing the reader only a glimpse into the lives of each character, Baxter weaves together seemingly mundane activities into complex examples of love, fear, and anxiety. This collection is officially touted as a best of, with a few new additions, but, thematically, each of the 23 stories is a piece of a larger puzzle that cannot be put together. Whether his characters are standing on their head to relieve stress, writing fake horoscopes to instill confidence in their children, or teaching children to tell their fortune with a tarot deck, each action serves as a lens to focus Baxter's illumination of the mystery of life. VERDICT Readers who enjoy the simple prose of John Irving and the imagination of Michael Chabon will be delighted by this collection. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/10.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Kirkus Reviews

This is the fifth story collection from novelist Baxter (The Soul Thief, 2008, etc.); its 23 stories (seven of them new) range from mediocre to memorable to mesmerizing.

How well do you know your other half? The question haunts some of the relationship stories. As Dennis and Emily are splitting up after eight years, they learn new things about each other ("Poor Devil"). Janet (in "Flood Show") has a lesson for husband Conor, still obsessed with his first wife. Our ultimate unknowability is driven home most strongly in "Kiss Away." In this radiant love story, Jodie and Walton are head over heels. Then Jodie meets his ex, who tells her Walton is abusive. Is she lying? Is Jodie ready to make that leap of faith into marriage? With its cliffhanger ending, this is one for the anthologies. Sometimes it's parents and children who don't know each other. Jaynee, a troubled teenager, is threatening to shoot a lion in the Detroit zoo ("Westland"). Her propensity for violence shocks Earl, her harried parent, but not as much as her diary revelations.Borderline crazies figure prominently: A guilty liberal tries to help three of them, all homeless ("Shelter"). Melissa tells an intruder he's a devil, though a really minor one, before sleeping with him ("Ghosts"). That's pure Baxter—he's forthright but unpredictable, a sweet combination. "Royal Blue" is not a 9/11 story, as first appears: It's the coming-of-age of a pretty boy after his girlfriend's miscarriage. The encounter of a desperate recovering alcoholic and a paroled murderer, next-door neighbors, should read grim, but "The Old Murderer" is so fast-paced it's oddly buoyant.

The uncanny power of Baxter's work derives from his knowledge of our secret selves as well as our surface ones.

Jeff Turrentine
Charles Baxter's short stories easily satisfy the genre's one nonnegotiable requirement: The central characters, through an encounter or an epiphany, must undergo some kind of transformation. What's most pleasurable, however, about the work-in-miniature by this celebrated American novelist…isn't the way it fulfills its basic generic obligations. It's the way that Baxter lovingly teases anguish, humor and heart-rending beauty out of clear, unaffected sentences describing the gray-clouded interior worlds inhabited by his cast of (largely) Midwestern melancholics.
—The Washington Post
Joyce Carol Oates
Beneath the shadowless equanimity of Norman Rockwell's America…Baxter evokes something like the chilling starkness and human isolation of the work of Edward Hopper…Through the whole of Gryphon, Baxter has been composing obituaries of a sort for his zombie Midwesterners, some of them poignant and disturbing, and all of them highly readable.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher

“With formidable skill and only a few brushstrokes of description, Baxter deftly draws us into his characters’ predicaments. . . . One of our best storytellers.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] career-encompassing collection.... Baxter’s legacy to fiction is clear: For more than twenty-five years he’s insisted that we’re kidding ourselves a little whenever we call ourselves ‘normal.’” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune 

“Remarkable. The early stories are terrific, and the new stories are terrific. Often, in this type of retrospective, it is obvious how much a writer has matured and developed. Rarely, but as demonstrated in this collection, we’re struck by the realization that the writer has always been this good.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
“This is Baxter at his best: a subtle and astute observer of the human.” —The New York Review of Books
 
“Baxter lovingly teases anguish, humor, and heart-rending beauty out of clear, unaffected sentences.” —The Washington Post
 
“A warmly disposed yet unsentimental chronicler of American lives…. Some [stories are] poignant and disturbing, and all of them highly readable.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“This is a marvelous book.” —Kansas City Star

“Baxter shines [a] bright light on his characters, so bright that the landscape around them, in almost every story, shimmers like a mirage in extreme heat.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Baxter is a genius. . . . [Gryphon] keeps us mesmerized to the end. Baxter brings to his masterful stories a quirky slant born of the straight-faced humor of the Midwest.” —Jane Ciabattari, Books We Like, NPR
 
“Baxter’s writing is spare, but, like a flash of cat eyes in the night, well-crafted images and wit flit onto the pages.” —Providence Journal
 
“Baxter is always engaged in a kind of chemistry experiment, closely monitoring what will ensue when two or more disparate elements are—often impulsively—combined. The results, always complex, can be surprising: and, like Miss Ferenczi in ‘Gryphon,’ they can bring us wonders we had not known we might see.” —The New York Review of Books
 
“Baxter is a writer who plainly enjoys writing, who revels in it, which is rarer than you might think—not the enjoyment, necessarily, but the palpability of the pleasure. . . . Keen and playful.” —The Boston Globe  
 
“What a treasure this volume is! . . . Dazzles us with the full brilliance of this writer’s vision.”  Andrea Barrett, author of The Air We Breathe
 
“Elegant. . . . Baxter is a melancholy expert craftsman.” —The New Yorker
 
“[Baxter] truly excels at the short form. He observes Chekhov’s admonition not to bore people by telling them everything. And yet his delicately carved slices of life contain a surprising amount of detail and depth.” —The Miami Herald
 
“There is both humor and truth in both the miniscule and the grand in Baxter’s writing, which makes this book as memorable as his work always is.” —Time Out Chicago
 
“Baxter’s constructs are of the muscular, straight-no-chaser variety that you might expect from Hemingway. . . . Never strikes a false note.” —Time Out New York
 
“Further cements [Baxter’s] reputation as a master chronicler of the Midwest.” —The Christian Science Monitor
 
“A feast of affecting encounters.” —Parade Magazine
 
“Like those of other masters of the form, Baxter’s short stories don’t seem abbreviated at all; he manages to suggest the complexity of an entire life within a few pages. . . . Gryphon is a fine introduction for Baxter novices and an exciting addition for connoisseurs.” —The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
 
“Baxter’s pilgrim’s journeys and tragicomic tales plumb the depths of psychology and faith. . . . Baxter exemplifies how entertainment and enlightenment come together in good fiction.” —Asheville Citizen-Times
 
“Baxter is a subtle and sophisticated writer, and each of these stories merits multiple readings. . . . For those unfamiliar with this great writer, I can’t think of a better introduction than this book.” —Devon Shepherd, MostlyFiction.com
 
“Baxter is our modern short story master because he knows how to dig at a particularly Midwestern brand of human frailty. . . . His stories quietly enter the reader’s subconscious and reverberate.” —Austin American-Statesman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307379214
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/11/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 850,371
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 3.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collections Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World. He lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Biography

Although his body of work includes poetry and essays, award-winning writer Charles Baxter is best known for his fiction -- brilliantly crafted, non-linear stories that twist and turn in unexpected directions before reaching surprising yet nearly always satisfying conclusions. He specializes in portraits of solid Midwesterners, regular Joes and Janes whose ordinary lives are disrupted by accidents, chance encounters, and the arrival of strangers; and his books have garnered a fierce and loyal following among readers and critics alike.

Born in Minneapolis in 1947, Baxter was barely a toddler when his father died. His mother remarried a wealthy attorney who moved the family onto a sprawling estate in suburban Excelsior. From prep school, Baxter was expected to attend Williams, but instead he chose Macalester, a small, liberal arts college in St. Paul. Intending to pursue a career in teaching and writing, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, attracted by a faculty that included such literary luminaries of the day as John Barth and Donald Barthelme.

After grad school, Baxter moved to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit. He spent more than a decade concentrating on writing poetry, but after a particularly discouraging dry spell, he decided to try his hand at fiction. He labored long and hard over three novels, none of which was accepted for publication. Then, just as he was about to give up altogether, he attempted one last trick. He whittled the three novels down to short stories, replacing epic themes, extraordinary characters, and ambitious story arcs with the small, quiet stuff of ordinary life. It was a good decision, In 1984, his first collection of short fiction, Harmony of the World, was published. Another anthology followed, then a debut novel. Published in 1987, First Light charmed readers with its unusual structure (the story unfolds backwards in time) and a cast of richly, draw, fully human characters.

Baxter continued to publish throughout the 1990s, alternating between short and full-length fiction, and with each book he garnered larger, more appreciative audiences and better reviews. His breakthrough occurred in 2000 with Feast of Love, a novel composed of many small stories that form a single, cohesive narrative. Described by The New York Times as "...rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing," Feast of Love was nominated for a National Book Award.

"Every time I've finished a book, it feels to me as if the washrag has been rung out," Baxter confessed in a 2003 interview. Yet he keeps on crafting absorbing stories infused with quiet (sometimes absurdist) wit and a compassionate understanding of the human condition. A longtime director of the creative writing program at the University of Michigan, he is known as a generous mentor, and several of his students have gone on to forge successful literary careers of their own.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Baxter shared some fascinating insights with us:

"My novels are sometimes criticized for being episodic, or structurally weird. And they are! I like them that way. It's fairly late in the day -- 2003 as I write -- in the history of the novel, and I think it's fair for writers to mess around with that form, and to stop thinking that they have to write books that move smoothly from the first act to the second act, and then to the climax and the denouement. I like digressions, asides, intrusions, advice, anything that gets in the way of a smooth narcotic flow. New novels should not look like old novels, except when they want to."

"My father died when I was eighteen months old, and I expect the unexpected to happen in life and in art, and my fiction is full, or loaded down, with unexpected fatalities of one kind or another. For me, that's realism."

"I had an unhappy childhood that I thought was happy, and I dove into books as inspiration and relief and comfort and security and information about what people did and how they thought. I can still get happy and sentimental just over the thought of libraries -- the image of a woman sitting quietly and reading is a terrifically sexy image for me."

"Like many writers, I'm private and quiet and observant and bookish. For a physical outlet, I lift weights at the gym two or three times a week, and I don't quit unless and until I've worked up a fairly good sweat. Many writers need an outlet like that to counter the sedentary nature of what they do. I don't have any wild delusions about the greatness of my work: I am happy to work humbly in this field where so many writers have created so many immortal manifestations of the mind and spirit. As Henry James said, you work in the dark; you do what you can; the rest is the madness of art."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 13, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Next Building I Plan to Bomb
 
In the parking lot next to the bank, Harry Edmonds saw a piece of gray scrap paper the size of a greeting card. It had blown up next to his leg and attached itself to him there. Across the top margin was some scrabby writing in purple ink. He picked it up and examined it. On the upper left-hand corner someone had scrawled the phrase THE NEXT BUILDING I PLAN TO BOMB. Harry unfolded the paper and saw an inked drawing of what appeared to be a sizable train station or some other public structure, perhaps an airport terminal. In the drawing were arched windows and front pillars but very little other supporting detail. The building looked solid, monumental, and difficult to destroy.
 
He glanced around the parking lot. There he was in Five Oaks, Michi­gan, where there were no such buildings. In the light wind other pieces of paper floated by in an agitated manner. One yellow flyer was stuck to a fire hydrant. On the street was the daily crowd of bankers, lawyers, shoppers, and students. As usual, no one was watching him or paying much attention to him. He put the piece of paper into his coat pocket.
 
All afternoon, while he sat at his desk, his hand traveled down to his pocket to touch the drawing. Late in the day, half as a joke, he showed the paper to the office receptionist.
 
“You’ve got to take it to the police,” she told him. “This is dangerous. This is the work of a maniac. That’s LaGuardia there, the airport? In the picture? I was there last month. I’m sure it’s LaGuardia, Mr. Edmonds. No kidding. Definitely LaGuardia.”
 
So at the end of the day, before going home, he drove to the main police station on the first floor of City Hall. Driving into the sun, he felt his eyes squinting against the burrowing glare. He had stepped inside the front door when the waxy bureaucratic smell of the building hit him and gave him an immediate headache. A cop in uniform, wearing an impa­tient expression, sat behind a desk, shuffling through some papers, and at that moment it occurred to Harry Edmonds that if he showed what was in his pocket to the police he himself would become a prime suspect and an object of intense scrutiny, all privacy gone. He turned on his heel and went home.
 
***
At dinner, he said to his girlfriend, “Look what I found in a parking lot today.” He handed her the drawing.
 
Lucia examined the soiled paper, her thumb and finger at its corner, and said, “ ‘The next building I plan to bomb.’ ” Her tone was light and urbane. She sold computer software and was sensitive to gestures. Then she said, “That’s Union Station, in Chicago.” She smiled. “Well, Harry, what are you going to do with this? Some nutcase did this, right?”
 
“Actually, I got as far as the foyer in the police station this afternoon,” he said. “Then I turned around. I couldn’t show it to them. I thought they’d suspect me or something.”
 
“Oh, that’s so melodramatic,” she said. “You’ve never committed a crime in your life. You’re a banker, for Chrissake. You’re in the trust department. You’re harmless.”
 
Harry sat back in his chair and looked at her. “I’m not that harmless.”
 
“Yes, you are.” She laughed. “You’re quite harmless.”
 
“Lucia,” he said, “I wish you wouldn’t use that word.”
 
“ ‘Harmless’? It’s a compliment.”
 
“Not in this country, it isn’t,” he said.
 
On the table were the blue plates and matching napkins and the yel­low candles that Lucia brought out whenever she was proud of what she or Harry had cooked. Today it was Burmese chicken curry. “Well, if you’re worried, take it to the cops,” Lucia told him. “That’s what the cops are there for. Honey,” she said, “no one will suspect you of any­thing. You’re handsome and stable and you’re my sweetie, and I love you, and what else happened today? Put that awful creepy paper back into your pocket. How do you like the curry?”
 
“It’s delicious,” he said.
 
***
After Harry had gotten up his nerve sufficiently to enter the police sta­tion again, he walked in a determined manner toward the front desk. After looking carefully at the drawing and the inked phrase, and writing down Harry Edmonds’s name and address, the officer, whose badge identified him as Sergeant Bursk, asked, “Mr. Edmonds, you got any kids?”
 
“Kids? No, I don’t have kids. Why?”
 
“Kids did this,” Sergeant Bursk told him, waving the paper in front of him as if he were drying it off. “My kids could’ve done this. Kids do this. Boys do this. They draw torture chambers and they make threats and what-have-you. That’s what they do. It’s the youth. But they’re kids. They don’t mean it.”
 
“How do you know?”
 
“Because I have three of them,” Sergeant Bursk said. “I’m not saying that you should have kids, I’m just saying that I have them. I’ll keep this drawing, though, if you don’t mind.”
 
“Actually,” Harry said, “I’d like it back.”
 
“Okay,” Sergeant Bursk said, handing it to him, “but if we hear of any major bombings, and, you know, large-scale serious death, maybe we’ll give you a call.”
 
“Yeah,” Harry said. He had been expecting this. “By the way,” he asked, “does this look like any place in particular to you?”
 
The cop examined the picture. “Sure,” he said. “That’s Grand Cen­tral. In New York, on Forty-second Street, I think. I was there once. You can tell by the clock. See this clock here?” He pointed at a vague circle. “That’s Grand Central, and this is the big clock that they’ve got there on the front.”
 
***
“The f**k it is,” the kid said. The kid was in bed with Harry Edmonds in the Motel 6. They had found each other in a bar downtown and then gone to this motel, and after they were finished, Harry drew the drawing out of his pants pocket on the floor and showed it to him. The kid’s long brown hair fell over his eyes and, loosened from its ponytail, spread out on the pillow. “I know this f**king place,” the kid said. “I’ve, like, trav­eled, you know, all over Europe. This is in Europe, this place, this is f**king Deutschland we’re talking about here.” The kid got up on his elbows to see better. “Oh, yeah, I remember this place. I was there, two summers ago? Hamburg? This is the Dammtor Bahnhof.”
 
“Never heard of it,” Harry Edmonds said.
 
“You never heard of it ’cause you’ve never been there, man. You have to f**king be there to know about it.” The kid squinched his eyebrows together like a professor making a difficult point. “A bahnhof, see, is a train station, and the Dammtor Bahnhof is, like, one of the stations there, and this is the one that the Nazis rounded up the Jews to. And, like, sent them off from. This place, man. Absolutely. It’s still standing. This one, it f**king deserves to be bombed. Just blow it totally the f**k away, off the face of the earth. That’s just my opinion. It’s evil, man.”
 
The kid moved his body around in bed, getting himself comfortable again after stating his opinions. He was slinky and warm, like a cat. The kid even made back-of-the-throat noises, a sort of satisfied purr.
 
***
“I thought we were finished with that,” Harry’s therapist said. “I thought we were finished with the casual sex. I thought, Harry, that we had worked through those fugitive impulses. I must tell you that it troubles me that we haven’t. I won’t say that we’re back to square one, but it is a backward step. And what I’m wondering now is, why did it happen?”
 
“Lucia said I was harmless, that’s why.”
 
“And did that anger you?”
 
“You bet it angered me.” Harry sat back in his chair and looked directly at his therapist. He wished she would get a new pair of eye­glasses. These eyeglasses made her look like one of those movie victims killed within the first ten minutes, right after the opening credits. One of those innocent bystanders. “Bankers are not harmless, I can assure you.”
 
“Then why did you pick up that boy?” She waited. When he didn’t say anything, she said, “I can’t think of anything more dangerous to do.”
 
“It was the building,” Harry said.
 
“What building?”
 
“I showed Lucia the building. On the paper. This paper.” He took it out of his pocket and handed it to his therapist. By now the paper was becoming soft and wrinkled. While she studied the picture, Harry watched the second hand of the wall clock turn.
 
“You found this?” she asked. “You didn’t draw this.”
 
“Yes, I found it.” He waited. “I found it in a parking lot six blocks from here.”
 
“All right. You showed Lucia this picture. And perhaps she called you harmless. Why did you think it so disturbing to be called harmless?”
 
“Because,” Harry said, “in this country, if you’re harmless, you get killed and eaten. That’s the way things are going these days. That’s the current trend. I thought you had noticed. Perhaps not.”
 
“And why do you say that people get killed and eaten? That’s an extravagant metaphor. It’s a kind of hysterical irony.”
 
“No, it isn’t. I work in a bank and I see it happen every day. I mop up the blood.”
 
“I don’t see what this has to do with picking up young men and taking them to motels,” she said. “That’s back in the country of acting out. And what I’m wondering is, what does this mean about your relationship with Lucia? You’re endangering her, you know.” As if to emphasize the point, she said, “It’s wrong, what you did. And very, very dangerous. With all your thinking, did you think about that?”
 
Harry didn’t answer. Then he said, “It’s funny. Everybody has a theory about what that building is. You haven’t said anything about it. What’s your theory?”
 
“This building?” Harry’s therapist examined the paper through her movie- victim glasses. “Oh, it’s the Field Museum, in Chicago. And that’s not a theory. It is the Field Museum.”
 
***
On Wednesday, at three a.m., Harry fixed his gaze on the bedroom ceil­ing. There, as if on a screen, shaped by the light through the curtains luffing in the window, was a public building with front pillars and curved arched windows and perhaps a clock. On the ceiling the pro­jected sun of Harry’s mind rose wonderfully, brilliantly gold, one or two mind-wisp cumulus clouds passing from right to left across it, but not so obscured that its light could not penetrate the great public building into which men, women, and children—children in strollers, children hand in hand with their parents—now filed, shadows on the ceiling, lighted shadows, and for a moment Harry saw an explosive flash.
 
Harry Edmonds lay in his bed without sleeping. Next to him was his girlfriend, whom he had planned to marry, once he ironed out a few items of business in his personal life and got them settled. He had made love to her, to this woman, this Lucia, a few hours earlier, with earnest caresses, but now he seemed to be awake again. He rose from bed and went down to the kitchen. In the harsh fluorescence he ate a cookie and on an impulse turned on the radio. The radio blistered with the econ­omy of call- in hatred and religion revealed to rabid-mouthed men who now gasped and screamed into all available microphones. He adjusted the dial to a call-in station. Speaking from Delaware, a man said, “There’s a few places I’d do some trouble to, believe me, starting with the Supreme Court and moving on to a clinic or two.” Harry snapped off the radio.
 
Now he sits in the light of the kitchen. He feels as dazed as it is possible for a sane man to feel at three thirty in the morning. I am not silly, nor am I trivial, Harry says to himself, as he reaches for a pad of paper and a no. 2 pencil. At the top of the pad, Harry writes, “The next place I plan to bomb,” and then very slowly, and with great care, begins to draw his own face, its smooth cleanshaven contours, its courteous half smile. When he perceives his eyes beginning to water, he rips off the top sheet with his picture on it and throws it in the wastebasket. The refrigerator seems to be humming some tune to him, some tune without a melody, and he flicks off the overhead light before he recognizes that tune.
 
***
It is midday in downtown Five Oaks, Michigan, the time for lunch and rest and conversation, and for a remnant, a lucky few, it may be a time for love, but here before us is Harry Edmonds, an officer in the trust department at Southeastern Michigan Bank and Trust, standing on a street corner in a strong spring wind. The wind pulls at his tie and musses his hair. Nearby, a recycling container appears to have over­turned, and sheets of paper, hundreds of them, papers covered with drawings and illustrations and words, have scattered. Like a flock of birds, they have achieved flight. All around Harry Edmonds they are gripped in this whirlwind and flap and snap in circles. Some stick to him. There are glossy papers with perfumed inserts, and there are yellowing papers with four-color superheroes, and there are the papers with attractive unclothed airbrushed bodies, and there are the papers with bills and announcements and loans. Here are the personals, swirl­ing past, and there a flyer for a home theater big-screen TV. Harry Edmonds, a man uncertain of the value of his own life, who at this moment does not know whether his life has, in fact, any importance at all, or any future, lifts his head in the wind, increasing in volume and intensity, and for a moment he imagines himself being blown away. From across the street, the way he raises his head might appear, to an observer, as a posture of prayer. God, it is said, resides in the whirlwind, and certainly Harry Edmonds’s eyes are closed and now his head is bowed. He does not move forward or backward, and it is unclear from the expression on his face whether he is making any sort of wish. He remains stationary, on this street corner, while all about him the papers fly first toward him, and then away.
 
A moment later he is gone from the spot where he stood. No doubt he has returned to his job at the bank, and that is where we must leave him.

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Table of Contents

The Would-be Father
Horace and Margaret’s Fifty-second
Harmony of the World
Winter Journey
Surprised by Joy
The Eleventh Floor
Gryphon
Fenstad’s Mother
Westland
Shelter
Snow
The Disappeared
Kiss Away
The Next Building I Plan to Bomb
Flood Show
The Cures for Love
Poor Devil
Ghosts
Royal Blue
The Old Murderer
Mr. Scary
The Cousins
The Winner
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    excellent collection

    This engaging twenty story collection from one of the best authors of the short format includes seven new tales and sixteen entries from his previous anthologies. The tales all look closely at ordinary people living mundane lives yet each character possesses a jocular quirkiness that sets him or her just outside the norm. The entire compilation contains all solid tales with a few of the reruns being super and new tales for the most part excellent. "Gryphon" (see Through the Safety Net) stars a fourth grader musing about a substitute teacher providing special reading and times table lessons. The art dealer knows 9/11 changed him forever in enigmatic "Royal Blue" (see The American Scholar). The stranger enters her house and announces to the frightened woman they are soulmates, but she will soon learn what soulmate means to him in "Ghosts" (see Ploughshares). "Fenstad's Mother" lectures him when he visits her adamantly insisting that he just tries to be good, but his daughter Sharon is the real thing. The "Poor Devil" is actually a couple beyond the edge of divorce. As always Charles Baxter provides a strong insightful look at everyman; often through a surreal Dali like eye.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    GR-R-EAT!

    "Harry, why does your generation always have to find the right person? Why can't you learn to live with the wrong person? Sooner or later everyone's wrong." These words of wisdom come from Fenstad's mother, in the eponymously titled story from this magnificent collection. I've long heard that short story writers spend too much of their imaginative capital on such writing, and my good friend Julie tells me that the market for even the best short stories is small. That's a terrible shame, as anyone who is smart enough to buy this book will quickly discover. Mr. Baxter's talent is prodigious. These are fascinating stories, written with great wit and feeling about not very remarkable people. I think that his writing is so fine that he could write about almost anything and make it interesting.

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    Posted August 8, 2011

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    Posted March 13, 2011

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