Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry: Stories

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Elizabeth McCracken's first novel, THE GIANT'S HOUSE--a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award--was widely praised for its heart, its humor, and its poetic yet unsentimental voice. Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken's stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit--only the old woman can't be traced on the family tree. In "What We Know About the Lost Aztec ...
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Overview

Elizabeth McCracken's first novel, THE GIANT'S HOUSE--a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award--was widely praised for its heart, its humor, and its poetic yet unsentimental voice. Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken's stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit--only the old woman can't be traced on the family tree. In "What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children," the "normal" middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront his mother's pain. In "It's Bad Luck to Die," a young woman discovers that her husband's loving creations--he's a tattoo artist--make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.Elizabeth McCrackens first novel, THE GIANTS HOUSE--a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award--was widely praised for its heart, its humor, and its poetic yet unsentimental voice. Like her extraordinary novel, McCrackens stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit--only the old woman cant be traced on the family tree. In What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children, the normal middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront hismothers pain. In Its Bad Luck to Die, a young woman discovers that her husbands loving creations--hes a tattoo artist--make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here;s Your Hat Whats Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.
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Editorial Reviews

Austin American-Statesman
McCracken is a descendant of Anne Tyler, whose characters in the smallness of their lives project large themes.
Boston Sundy Globe
Funny and heartbreaking...A terrific book...You could gulp (these stories) like heart-candy.
Francine Prose
There's a real grace of lanugage here — a knack for quirky, precise description . . . McCracken [has an] engaging voice, a sharp eye for those moments when the grotesque hidse behind the unexceptional — and an ability to persuade us that what appears most unlikely is often most illuminating, and frequently most true. —Los Angeles Times
Katherine Dunn
McCracken is a . . . robust, ferocious romantic who sees reality with all its chinks, twitches, and zits, and finds it beautiful.
New York Times Book Review
Impressive . . . elegantly written.
New Yorker
McCracken is as original a writer as they come.
Times
The wonderful power of the human imagination emerges as a constant in this quirky . . . collection of tales.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McCracken repeatedly creates characters who crave emotional shelter in this debut collection of nine stories. At times her oddball individuals seem contrived, as in the listless ``Some Have Entertained Angels, Unaware,'' narrated by a motherless girl whose father allows an ever-shifting cast of eccentrics to take up residence in his spacious, run-down home. Similarly, ``What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children'' features an armless woman--a former sideshow attraction--who welcomes a lonely friend from the circus into her family's suburban home. Sometimes though, such conscious attempts to blend perversity and sentimentality pay off: In ``It's Bad Luck to Die,'' a woman marries a tattooist three decades her senior and shows her love by becoming a canvas for his most extravagant work. Another highlight is the wistful title tale, whose nomadic protagonist makes a life of being an uninvited, potentially unwanted guest by introducing herself to unwary families as their long-lost Aunt Helen Beck (hell and back?). Ultimately, Here's Your Hat is a melancholy book, filled with dispossessed, acquiescent characters incapable of forging permanent bonds with those who offer refuge. (June)
Library Journal
All the stories in this offbeat collection live up to the promise of their titles. ``It's Bad Luck To Die'' features a six-foot woman who comes to feel comfortable with herself only after she marries Tiny, a tattoo artist who uses her body as an immense empty canvas to be filled with his artistic creations. In ``The Bar of Our Recent Unhappiness,'' a middle-aged man lets his hair grow unfashionably long while he waits for his wife to emerge from a coma so she can cut it for him. In the title story, an older woman travels from relative to relative, having no home of her own, until one hospitable young couple learns the truth about her. Although McCracken has filled her stories with a cast of oddballs, she has created such compelling lives for them that she moves beyond our curiosity to gain our sympathy. These wonderful stories belong in most fiction collections.-- Barbara Love, St. Lawrence Coll., Kingston, Ontario
Francine Poe
There's a real grace of language here -- a knack for quirky, precise description...McCracken has an engaging voice, a sharp eye for those moments when the grotesque hides behind the unexceptional. -- Los Angeles Times
Francine Prose
There's a real grace of language here-a knack for quirky, precise description…McCracken [has an] engaging voice, a sharp eye for those moments when the grotesque hides behind the unexceptional-and an ability to persuade us that what appears most unlikely is often most illuminating, and frequently most true.
— Francine Prose,Los Angeles Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380730797
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.41 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of Niagara Falls All Over Again, winner of the PEN/Winship Award, as well as Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry?, a collection of stories. She has received grants and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy in Berlin.

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Read an Excerpt

It's Bad
Luck
To Die


Maybe you wonder how a Jewish girl from Des Moines got Jesus Christ tattooed on her three times: ascending on one thigh, crucified on the other, and conducting a miniature apocalypse beneath the right shoulder. It wasn't religion that put them there; it was Tiny, my husband. I have a Buddha round back, too. He was going to give me Moses parting the Red Sea, but I was running out of space. Besides, I told him, I was beginning to feel like a Great Figures in Religion comic book.

He got dreamy-eyed when he heard that. "Brigham Young," he said. "And some wives."

I told him: "Tiny, I've got no room for a polygamist."

Tiny himself had been married three times before he met me, one wife right after the other. I only had him, the one, and he's been dead six months now.

I met Tiny the summer I graduated high school, 1965, when I was eighteen and he was forty-nine. My cousin Babs, who was a little wild, had a crazy boyfriend (the whole family was worried about it) and he and some of his buddies dared her to get tattooed. She called me up and told me she needed me there and that I was not to judge, squawk, or faint at the sight of blood. She knew none of that was my style, anyhow.

We drove to Tiny's shop over on East 14th because that's where Steve, the crazy boy, had got the panther that had a toehold on his shoulder. The shop was clean and smelled of antiseptic; Babs and I were disappointed. Sheets of heavy paper in black dime-store frames hung on the walls-flash sheetsarranged by theme: one had Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker; another, a nurse in a Red Cross cap and a geisha offering a drink on a tray.A big flash by the door had more ambitious designs: King Kong and Cleopatra on the opposite sides of one page, looking absentmindedly into each other's eyes.

Tiny was set up on a stool in back, smoking a cigarette, an itty-bit of a man next to a Japanese screen. He was wearing a blue dress shirt with the cuffs turned back, and his hands and arms were covered with blue-black lines: stars across the knuckles, snakes winding up under the sleeves. The wide flowered tie that spread out over his chest and stomach might've been right on a big man, but on Tiny it looked like an out-of-control garden. His pants were white and wrinkled, and there was a bit of blue ink at the knee; a suit jacket, just as wrinkled, hung on the coat rack in back.

He eyed our group, scowled at Steve and his two friends, and solemnly winked at me and Babs.

"So," he said. "Who's the one?"

"Me," Babs said, trying to sound tough. She told him what she wanted: a little red-and-black bow on her tush. He asked her if she were old enough; she got out her wallet and showed him her driver's license.

Steve and his friends were buzzing around the shop, looking at the flash and tapping the ones they really liked.

"Keep your hands off the designs, boys," said Tiny. "I can't tattoo a fingerprint." He turned to Babs. "Okay. Come back of the screen." There was something a little southern in his voice, but I couldn't pick out what it was. He jumped off the stool, and I saw that he was about a full foot shorter than me. I'm six feet tall, have been since eighth grade. I looked right down on top of his slick black hair.

We all started to follow him. Tiny looked at us and shook his head.

"You boys have to stay out here."

"I'm her boyfriend," said Steve. "I've seen it before, and I'm paying."

"If you've seen it before, you'll see it again, so you don't need to now. Not in my shop, anyhow. You-" he pointed at me "-- come around to testify I'm a gentleman."

He beckoned us back of the screen to a padded table, the kind you see in doctors' offices, only much lower. Tiny turned around politely while Babs lowered her blue jeans and clam bered up. He spun back, frowned, pulled down just the top of her yellow flowered underwear like he was taking fat off a chicken, and tapped her. "Right here's where you want it?"

"That's fine."

"Honey, is it fine, or is it what you want?"

Babs twisted to look, careful not to catch his eye. "That's what I want."

He squirted her with antiseptic, got a razor and shaved the area good. I sat on a folding chair across from them.

Tiny loosened his tie, slipped it off, and hung it, still knotted, on a peg on the wall. "Hey Stretch," he said, looking at me. "What's your name?"

"Lois.

"Lois. Like Louise?"' He rolled his shirtsleeves up further. Babs was holding on to the table like a drowning sailor, and Tiny hadn't even got the needle out yet.

"Lois," I answered, and fast, because I had to talk to him over Babs's hindquarters and that made me a little self-conscious, "after my Uncle Louis. I was going to be named Natalie, after my Uncle Nathan, but then Louis died and Mom liked him better anyhow."

"My name is Tiny. No story there but the obvious." He picked up an electric needle from a workbench and hunted for the right pot of color.

"I'm Babs," said Babs, reaching around for a handshake. Tiny was looking elsewhere, and he dipped the needle in some black ink and flipped it on. "For Barbara?" he asked, setting into her skin.

"A-a-a-a-bigail. Ouch." She gripped the table.

"Honey," said Tiny, "this doesn't hurt. I got you where you're good and fleshy. Might sting a little, but it doesn't hurt...

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Table of Contents

1 It's Bad Luck To Die 3
2 Some Have Entertained Angels, Unaware 23
3 Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry 55
4 The Bar of Our Recent Unhappiness 83
5 Mercedes Kane 103
6 What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children 121
7 June 143
8 Secretary of State 161
9 The Goings-On of the World 193
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