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Overview

In this, her first collection of stories, Christine Schutt gives exquisite and provocative form to feelings and memories. Nightwork is a masterful dreamwork, revealing our lives with the startling clarity we long for.

A young woman remembers, after a forbidden embrace, the exact quality of her father's skin, "pitted and stubbled under all that color." A girl recalls the ...
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Nightwork: Stories

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Overview

In this, her first collection of stories, Christine Schutt gives exquisite and provocative form to feelings and memories. Nightwork is a masterful dreamwork, revealing our lives with the startling clarity we long for.

A young woman remembers, after a forbidden embrace, the exact quality of her father's skin, "pitted and stubbled under all that color." A girl recalls the strange kingdom that was her grandfather's estate, a place she came to inhabit only through betrayal.

Romantic linkings are often unexpected: mother-son, father-daughter, mother-lover-daughter. In "What Have You Been Doing?" a mother teaches her son how to kiss. In "Dead Men," a woman finds herself unable to be touched by her new lover without experiencing intensely erotic recollections of the lover who is gone.

The stories are sensually detailed and sometimes shocking. Hands, feet, breasts . . . bodies are known, as they are known, mostly in bed. "Before the dead man, she had slept by herself with her hands to herself like a poultice."

Here is an Everywoman, voiced from familiar enclosures: a house in the country, an apartment in town. The muted landscapes, too, are an Everyplace made of "wind and slashes of high blue sky in the heads of furious trees."

Schutt's fearlessness, her passionate honesty, is the source for the language of these splendid stories—night worlds, which may disturb our composure but enable us to dream while awake.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Unsettling insights and beautifully stylized prose propel Schutt's impressive first book, a story collection. The writing is spare and the stories brief, creating an effect more akin to the compression of prose poetry than to conventional minimalist fiction. Many of Schutt's tales, such as "You Drive," focus on family relationships, interactions that are either latently or overtly erotic. In some stories-notably "Stephen, Michael, Patrick, John" and "Good Night, Sweetheart"-Schutt's obliqueness of manner is needlessly obscure. But for the most part, edgy atmosphere and descriptive beauty compensate for a lack of clear plot and conventional characterization. In the most powerful story, "Religion," Schutt writes of a group of children who have been rescued from an abusive cult. Also noteworthy is "Metropolis," about a conversation between a teacher and a student's mother. The author excels at painting corrosive images of corrupted innocence and at evoking a seething, sexualized violence that looms underneath the often mundane surface of her stories. Though some may find Schutt's style impenetrable and her subject matter uncomfortable, those looking for fine writing and acute observation will find much to admire here. (May)
Library Journal
In Schutt's first collection of short stories, complex relationships between husband and wife, father and daughter are sensually and sometimes shockingly depicted. For instance, in one story a mother teaches her son how to kiss. These stories take a haunting look at what relationships work and do not work and what men and women are striving to obtain. The landscapes may be familiar, but the unthinkable sometimes happens. Recommended for sophisticated readers.-Vicki J. Cecil, Hartford City P.L., Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
A debut collection made up of 17 stories (or, in some cases, slivers of story) told in voices flattened by despair.

The narrators here are mostly nameless, and the uneasy territory of their subject matter cannot readily be labeled. In the opening piece, "You Drive," a grown daughter and her father cross the boundaries of any usual parent-child relationship as they sit in a car, sharing secrets, kissing and memorizing the smell and texture of one another's skin. In "What Have You Been Doing?," it's a mother and son who kiss: "She was out of practice and he wanted practice. . . . In the middle of rooms she obliged, in her bedroom, his bedroom, a kissing done standing, her hands on his shoulders, his not quite on her waist, heads tilted, mouths open." Another mother, in "Teachers," tells her daughter details about her lover while the girl yearns to get away, begging to be allowed just to go off to school. The spareness of Schutt's prose, in combination with her elliptical storylines, can make certain pieces (notably "Giovanni and Giovanna" and "His Chorus") difficult to decipher at all. But when she works with more accessible themes, the results are powerful, as in "Daywork," where two adult daughters guiltily clean out the attic of their mother's house as she lies dying in the hospital, and "To Have and To Hold," as a spurned wife acts upon her anger and grief in her tiny and terrifyingly tidy kitchen. Schutt is good at small, sharp moments, and she chooses words with the care of a poet. But effective as some of these tales are, others feel fragmentary, incomplete. Taken all together, they're finally overwhelming in the uniform grimness of their point of view.

Razor-sharp writing in stories sliced a little too thin—and admittedly close to the bone.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307828200
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 129
  • Sales rank: 754,315
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Christine Schutt
Christine Schutt
"It doesn't matter what anyone says. If the work is good, eventually it will be found," National Book Award finalist Christine Schutt told The New York Times Magazine. "I used to imagine that my work would be discovered after I am dead, but it's much nicer to be recognized in one's lifetime."

Biography

Christine Schutt is the author of a short-story collection, Nightwork, chosen by poet John Ashbery as the best book of 1996 for the Times Literary Supplement. Florida, her first novel, was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University and studied at Barnard with novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick. She lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.

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Table of Contents

You Drive 3
The Summer After Barbara Claffey 19
What Have You Been Doing? 31
Good Night, Sweetheart 37
Religion 41
Dead Men 51
Daywork 57
An Unseen Hand Passed over Their Bodies 65
The Enchantment 67
Metropolis 79
To Have and to Hold 85
Stephen, Michael, Patrick, John 89
See If You Can Lift Me 93
Teachers 99
Because I Could Not Stop for Death 109
His Chorus 115
Giovanni and Giovanna 125
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