Here Comes Another Lesson: Stories
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Here Comes Another Lesson: Stories

by Stephen O'Connor
     
 

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STEPHEN O’CONNOR IS ONE OF TODAY’S MOST GIFTED AND ORIGINAL WRITERS. In Here Comes Another Lesson, O’Connor, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, and many other places, fearlessly depicts a world that no longer quite makes sense. Ranging from the wildly inventive to the vividly realistic, these

Overview

STEPHEN O’CONNOR IS ONE OF TODAY’S MOST GIFTED AND ORIGINAL WRITERS. In Here Comes Another Lesson, O’Connor, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, and many other places, fearlessly depicts a world that no longer quite makes sense. Ranging from the wildly inventive to the vividly realistic, these brilliant stories offer tender portraits of idealists who cannot live according to their own ideals and of lovers baffled by the realities of love.

The story lines are unforgettable: A son is followed home from work by his dead father. God instructs a professor of atheism to disseminate updated Commandments. The Minotaur is awakened to his own humanity by the computer-game-playing "new girl" who has been brought to him for supper. A recently returned veteran longs for the utterly ordinary life he led as a husband and father before being sent to Iraq. An ornithologist, forewarned by a cormorant of the exact minute of his death, struggles to remain alert to beauty and joy.

As playful as it is lyrical, Here Comes Another Lesson celebrates human hopefulness and laments a sane and gentle world that cannot exist.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The impossibility of balancing desire and its fulfillment lies at the center of many of these inventive stories. They range from fabulistic to realistic, and the best ones retain a vague fealty to reality, though the alternate worlds visited are sketched with a skewed, knowing hand, as with "Ziggurat," a droll, slightly disorienting account of the Minotaur in his labyrinth. The mythical monster displays only scorn for his victims until he develops a crush on his latest victim, who diverts him through flattery, cajolery, sharing beers, and teaching him to play pool. Elsewhere, Charles, "the professor of atheism," appears in six stories and skewers the outsized egos of academics even as his own is gratified in the most unlikely ways--before, that is, wry resolutions render each reward a less than ideal outcome. Charles's scholarship is adored; he vacations in Eden; and he eventually confirms his own worst, narcissistic fears. O'Connor (Rescue) is a wizard at engendering sympathy for his characters, who are often simply trying to make sense of situations less certain and comfortable than they might wish. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Highly praised and hotly anticipated…a deeply inventive collection of stories that examine the limitations of modern humanity and morality. O’Connor gives us a portrait of human life and all its harrowing peculiarities that’s equal parts funny, strange and poignant." —Time Out New York

“The impossibility of balancing desire and its fulfillment lies at the center of many of these inventive stories. They range from fabulistic to realistic, and the best ones retain a vague fealty to reality, though the alternate worlds visited are sketched with a skewed, knowing hand, as with 'Ziggurat,' a droll, slightly disorienting account of the Minotaur in his labyrinth… O'Connor is a wizard at engendering sympathy for his characters, who are often simply trying to make sense of situations less certain and comfortable than they might wish.” —Publishers Weekly

“O’Connor’s taste for unusual setups resembles that of George Saunders, but O’Connor is a more bleakly critical writer, and the bulk of his stories seem designed to reveal how ill-equipped we are to deal with mortal concerns….The power in these stories emerges from O’Connor’s style, which can be as controlled and elegant as John Updike’s but which serves a very different purpose.” —Kirkus Reviews

"[T]he best collection of stories I’ve read so far this year... A story about a minotaur and a video-game-obsessed girl bumps against a story about an Iraq War vet’s first difficult day home, both of which are placed alongside a series of seriocomic tales about a 'professor of atheism' arrived in (perhaps) heaven. O’Connor can be satirical, but not in the kind of consistently arch way that marks, say, a George Saunders collection. O’Connor is simply acrobatically capable of finding the style appropriate for each story." —Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

“The main lesson of this book is that there are still fiction writers out there brave enough to take serious risks. For O'Connor, the risks pay off lavishly. Here is a collection of great feeling, range, and power.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

“When an accounting is done of our bravest and most inventive writers of the short story, Stephen O’Connor’s name must certainly be on the list.”—Ben Marcus, author of Notable American Women

“Each story in O'Connor's brilliant collection is a sunrise—a radiant apparition from beyond the outermost limits of ordinary language. Some stories are gritty, realist, and spare; others feel lightning-charged with an otherworldly intensity, shockingly inventive but also frighteningly familiar, surprising, and true.” —Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

“'The Professor of Atheism' series in Stephen O'Connor's second collection recurs like a running gag in between the other stories. Each entry launches from a simple premise: Charles, a washed-up, mediocre atheist, finds himself in theological situations. He acquires a pair of angel wings and is born again in the Garden of Eden… Charles is an existential Wile E. Coyote in a series of sublime metaphysical cartoons.” —Paul Constant, The Stranger

“These are amazing, fearless stories—wild dreamscapes that take place in our very own world, with its murderous brutality, impenetrable mystery, and tender beauty. Whether he’s working in the fantastic or the familiar, O’Connor is an artist of the unpredictable, a supreme talent.” —Joan Silber, author of The Size of the World

“‘Love,’ my favorite in this book of wonderful stories, says it all about the author, who exhibits throughout this collection a true mastery of the form; along the way, Mr. O’Connor, in his passion for language and storytelling, not only forms a bond between the reader and himself, but leaves one with a feeling of gratitude—and yes, perhaps, even an affection—for his gifts.” —Oscar Hijuelos, author of Beautiful Maria of My Soul

“In these odd, funny, touching stories Stephen O’Connor plants himself in a great tradition of surrealist writers. He’s not afraid to take whacky risks with his material and move us at the same time. I don’t say this lightly but there’s a through line from Gogol to Kafka to O’Connor—writers who find that the seemingly ordinary and everyday can be the strangest thing of all.” —Mary Morris, author of Revenge

“The world as conjured by Stephen O’Connor—with its apocalyptic skies, its extravagant dispensations of feeling, its beautiful bestiaries full of minotaurs, untenured professors, and other lonely big-headed creatures—may feel like some wondrous dream, a funhouse mirror for our most primal yearnings and fears. But it’s neither more nor less strange than our own. For all their riotous warps and woofs, these stories achieve an aching reality, a full-throated human-ness rare in American fiction. Like all the best art they can’t be summarized, only experienced. So what are you waiting for?” —Robert Cohen, author of Amateur Barbarians

Library Journal
This amalgam of wildly diverse stories is a reading roller coaster. Almost every story involves a bizarre or absurd setting. The reader is repeatedly challenged to comprehend the world of each story and is often left hanging. "Man in the Moon," about a persecuted minority of big-headed people, seems to be an allegory of sorts; "White Fire" is notable for its fragmented language that conveys the twisted emotions of a troubled soldier returning from war. A repeated character is the professor of atheism, appearing in six stories; particularly notable is "The Professor of Atheism: Stealing Peaches from Sam Snow," in which the professor meets God and is given a new, abbreviated set of only two commandments. Most of the stories are somewhat heartless, but there remains a thread of humor throughout and a razor-sharp investigation of the human condition that sustains the reader. The last story, "Aunt Jules," the longest of the collection, is remarkably different for its poignancy and grace; it comes across like a sweet song after the darker melodies that precede it.Verdict For larger fiction collections and fans of self-imposed human suffering.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439181997
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
08/03/2010
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
303
Product dimensions:
8.68(w) x 11.04(h) x 0.79(d)

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Meet the Author

Stephen O’Connor is the author of three books: Rescue (a collection of short fiction and poetry), Will My Name Be Shouted Out? (a work of memoir and social analysis), and Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed (a narrative history). His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, The Quarterly, Partisan Review, The New England Review, and elsewhere. His poetry has been in Poetry Magazine, The Missouri Review, Agni, Knockout, and Green Mountains Review. His essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere.

O’Connor is the recipient of the Cornell Woolrich Fellowship in Creative Writing from Columbia University, the Visiting Fellowship for Historical Research by Artists and Writers from the American Antiquarian Society, and the DeWitt Wallace/Reader's Digest Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. He teaches in the writing MFA programs of Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence. For eight years he directed and taught in Teachers & Writers Collaborative’s flagship creative writing program at a public school in New York City. He has received a B.A. from Columbia University, and an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, both in English literature. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City.

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