Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men

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Overview

At her kitchen table somewhere in the South, Padgett Powell's narrator embarks on a spirited and often hilarious imagining of certain historical figures and current national preoccupations. Ostensibly writing her grocery list, Mrs. Hollingsworth most happily loses her sense of herself. Her list becomes a discovery of the things she has and those she lacks, including men—even her own husband.
Mrs. Hollingsworth begins her list by imagining a lost-love story in which she is ...

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Overview

At her kitchen table somewhere in the South, Padgett Powell's narrator embarks on a spirited and often hilarious imagining of certain historical figures and current national preoccupations. Ostensibly writing her grocery list, Mrs. Hollingsworth most happily loses her sense of herself. Her list becomes a discovery of the things she has and those she lacks, including men—even her own husband.
Mrs. Hollingsworth begins her list by imagining a lost-love story in which she is playful with and disdainful of the conventions of Southern literature. Soon tiring of that, she decides to turn up her imagination. For reasons unclear to her, the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, an icon of the Lost Cause, rides into her tired lost-love story. He appears as a hologram created by a media giant, Roopit Mogul, who aims to find the real New Southerner—in a man who can recognize General Forrest's image. Into this surreal atmosphere enter Mrs. Hollingsworth's all too real daughters, the forgotten husband, Mr. and Mrs. Mogul, the boys of the neighborhood, and petty criminals named Oswald and Bundy. Within this singular narrative collage, strong tenderness arises, with accounts of genuine lost love, both familial and wholly romantic. MRS HOLLINGSWORTH'S MEN is a remarkable achievement, full of style and feeling.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“When asked for a list of the best American writers of the younger generation I invariably put the name of Padgett Powell at the top.”—Saul Bellow

"Padgett Powell takes big risks, and he wins every time."—Josephine Humphreys

"Nobody else talks to you like this."—Pete Dexter

"an admirably sentimental affirmation of creativity and the possibility of love." The San Francisco Chronicle

From The Critics
Mrs. Hollingsworth, the narrator of Powell's innovative new novel, enjoys making grocery lists. Recently, Hollingsworth has moved beyond listing milk and laundry detergent and has found herself imagining and writing about the lives of historical figures and contemporary cultural and political icons. Hollingsworth envisions the troubled, romantic life of Nathan Bedford Forrest and combines it with the movie magic of media giant Roopit Mogul, eventually realizing how her fantasies parallel the shortcomings of her life. Here Powell, in a novel that addresses the subjectivity of history and narrative, explores the broken yet hopeful heart of a woman who never sees her husband and who's obsessed with two small-time crooks named Oswald and Bundy. Though initially difficult to navigate, the novel eventually proceeds with humor and confidence. Powell paces the short novel with concise, lyrical chapters and abandons a conventional plot to focus on Hollingsworth's far too typical existence. Although its experimental approach occasionally muddles rather than illuminates the characters, this novel shines with parody and sly intelligence as it inspires new ways to read and remember, to feel and to dream.
—Bret Anthony Johnston

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There is a trick to reading Powell's evocative daydream of a novel: don't stop halfway across this swinging bridge between reality and the eponymous protagonist's phantasmic imagination. Don't stop and, above all, don't look down. Powell (Edisto; A Woman Named Drown) has a practice of subtly sliding--or suddenly snatching--what seems to be the landscape of his fiction from under the reader's nose and replacing it with something else entirely. Seated at her kitchen table somewhere in the South, the middle-aged Mrs. Hollingsworth is making a grocery list. Not a list of eggs and bread and detergent, but a list of people as diverse as Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, Lee Harvey Oswald and Ted Bundy, who appear in her head as holograms more real than her "indistinct" husband or her "Tupperware" daughters, who think she is losing her mind. In fact, she is writing down her jumble of thoughts in order to find her mental equilibrium and to make some sense of what is wrong with the world. Powell turns his eccentric vision on our common cultural conceits, for example: "the NPR rockettes... They were an army of presumers who presumed to legislate what everyone else did, thought, felt, should do, should think, should feel." Mrs. Hollingsworth conjures up General Forrest as the man to oppose the army of presumers. Yet there is a hint of romance on the battlefield in Mrs. Hollingsworth's head as she fights to win her skirmish with the surreal. Powell writes with clarity and grace about unseen territory, and his idiosyncratic humor succeeds in connecting the Civil War to the bizarre angst of a woman whose metaphysical "shopping list" will nourish herself and "whatever hungry fools came by to partake of her improbable food." (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Those looking for state-of-the-art experimental fiction combining elements of romance, lost love, grocery lists, and the Civil War can stop searching. Mrs. Hollingsworth, it seems, "daydreams," or fabulates, when she composes her grocery list. The result is Powell's (Edisto) fascinating pastiche, whose wacky cast includes Oswald and Bundy, two miscreants who carry about a "ray-gun" that produces a holographic image of Gen. N.B. Forrest at the behest of one Roopit Mogul. Mediamagnate Mogul is seeking a model of the "New Southerner," someone who can recognize Forrest, that Confederate States of America legend. Often, the action, Civil War or otherwise, is fairly weird (e.g., Generals Forrest and Lee, who never actually met, have a dialog in gangsta rap dialect). It's a trip, this book is, a trip through a mind trying to come to terms with some things. Not for the everyday reader, it is nevertheless essential for those who see fiction as needing to create reality. Highly recommended, accordingly. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]--Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
A tour de force of wordplay and lucid description...
Robert J. Kelly
. . . a slim, sly deceiver of a book, full of mirth and wickedness. Its mind-set appears to derive from a cranky, conservative, unreconstructed South . . . Yet at the core of the novel, something rings true: a woman thinks her thoughts.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Powell (Aliens of Affection, 1998, etc.) holds to his reputation for pyrotechnics with this ambitiously hallucinatory look at a Civil War hero and then some—a look taken by a plain but thoughtful housewife, who does it all with a shopping list.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618071685
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Padgett Powell has received the Prix de Rome of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writer's Award, and a nomination for the National Book Award. He is also the author of the novels Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men, Edisto, A Woman Named Drown, Edisto Revisted, and two collections of stories. His stories and essays have been selected for Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays. He teaches in Gainesville, Florida, where he lives with his wife and their two children.

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Read an Excerpt

Mrs. Hollingsworth likes to traipse. Her primary worry is thinning hair, though this has not happened yet. She enjoys a solidarity with fruit. She is wistful for the era in which hatboxes proliferated, though a hatbox is not something even her grandmother may have owned. More probably what she wants is hatboxes themselves, without the era or the hats. But the proud, firm utility of the hatbox requires a hat and an era for its dignity; otherwise it is a relic. She does not want relics. Her husband is indistinct. She regards friendly dogs with suspicion. Her daughters have lost touch with her, or she with them, or both; it is the same thing, she thinks, or it is not the same thing, which means it might as well be the same thing: so much is pointless this way, indifferent, moot, or mute, as a friend of hers says. Not a friend, but a friendly man whom she cannot bring herself to correct when he says “mute” for “moot,” for then she might have to go on and indict his entire presumption to teach at the community college, inspiring roomfuls of college hopefuls to say “mute” for “moot” and filling them with other malaprops, and if she indicts him on that presumption she’ll need to go on and indict him for the presumption of his smug liberalism and for affecting to like film as Art and not movies as entertainment and for getting his political grooming from the smug liberalism and film-as-Art throat clearing of National Public Radio, and all of this, since it would be but the first strike in taking on the entire army of modest Americans who believe themselves superior to other Americans (but not to any foreigners, except dictators) mostly by virtue of doing nothing but electing to think themselves superior - all of this would be unwise, or moot, and indeed she may as well be mute, maybe the oaf was on to something.

Copyright © 2000 by Padgett Powell

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Exciting psychological tale

    Deep in the South, middle-aged Mrs. Hollingsworth sits at her table in her kitchen, writing out a grocery list. However, her list includes items she has and things she lacks, but nothing on her list is remotely like a grocery item. Failing with her spouse, Mrs. Hollingsworth draws a list consisting of infamous men of history. Diving deeper into her imagination, the lonely woman dreams of Lost Cause Confederate General Nathan Forrest and serial killer Ted Bundy, etc. She sees this crowd as more real than her so-called husband. <P>Mrs. Hollingsworth¿s perfectly eerie 'Tupperware' daughters believe their mother is going insane. They think that their mother has lost her mind and needs help, perhaps in a plastic hermetically sealed hospital. Mrs. Hollingsworth feels they might be partially right, but writing down her list provides her with mental stability in a world that her gone wrong, at least in her mind. <P> Padgett Powell focuses on the absurd excesses of modern day society through a Walter Mitty daydreamer seeking solace in those dubbed by history as losers. Mrs. Hollingsworth is a great character, as her mind serves as a battlefield between reality vs. surreality, romanticism vs. pragmatism, and sanity vs. insanity. Often humorous and satirical, the story line may not be for everyone. However, those fans who enjoy a bit of irony and are tired of disingenuous presidential ads leaving voters feeling bushed and gored, will find fresh solace in this weird, but wonderful novel. <P>Harriet Klausner

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