Palace of Wasted Footsteps

Overview

Images of dancing and the theme of survival connect the stories in Cary Holladay's latest fiction collection, The Palace of Wasted Footsteps. These images may be explicit, or understated, as in "Mayflies," which suggests the glorious yet frantic dance of brief, intense lives. Yet each story depicts men, women, and children partnered with death, love, or strange, wonderful chance.

Set largely in the Mid-South, Holladay's stories feature characters with honest, even old-fashioned,...

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Overview

Images of dancing and the theme of survival connect the stories in Cary Holladay's latest fiction collection, The Palace of Wasted Footsteps. These images may be explicit, or understated, as in "Mayflies," which suggests the glorious yet frantic dance of brief, intense lives. Yet each story depicts men, women, and children partnered with death, love, or strange, wonderful chance.

Set largely in the Mid-South, Holladay's stories feature characters with honest, even old-fashioned, sensibilities who set out to do right and end up smitten. The policeman in "Doll" discovers that his affection is torn between his pregnant wife, a mannequin he found in a dump, and a haughty saleswoman whose smile is like "a cat's yawn." The young woman in "Runaways," bedazzled by the vanished hot-air balloonist who was her best friend's father, creates a loving legend about him that inspires and sustains her.

Darker in subject matter and atmosphere, "Merry-Go-Sorry" captures an ironic theme that is carried throughout the collection. "Merry- go-sorry. It means a story with good news and bad . . . smacking you in the face at the same time." Centering on a small Arkansas town in the aftermath of a triple murder, the story follows the effects of three boys' deaths on the lives of their parents, friends, and accused killers. Despite the sorrow felt throughout the community, one girl finds solace in her new baby and in the Bible verses she readily quotes.

"Rapture," the story of a young woman who has lost her family and her home, again captures the essence of both joy and sorrow. When a friend gives her a small glass egg, Etta is suddenly confronted with memories of her youth and her beloved family. Although buried woes emerge, she is also filled with newfound contentment: "Tourists waved. To her surprise, her hand flew up; she was waving back."

The rituals, struggles, and triumphs that the various characters in The Palace of Wasted Footsteps experience are personal yet universal. At the same time, they capture the subtle echoes of the American South and its literary tradition. Like glorious mayflies, Holladay's characters are forever enthralled in the frantic dance of life—their passions are strong, their fates inevitable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Holladay's themes are contemporary and timeless: longing and love; loss and the refusal to give in to it . . . the crucial importance of what we call the little things in our lives."—Dabney Stuart
Linda Barrett Osborne
...[An] artful collection....within [the stories] lie both the seeds of survival and the possibility of epiphany. — The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Themes of loss and yearning pervade Holladay's sometimes lyric but often flat collection of stories (after The People Down South), which features an eclectic cast of characters struggling to resist their pervasive disappointment. An ache for the past--and for missed opportunities--drives them to search for meaning and beauty, doomed though they are by naivete and circumstance. Many of these 10 stories are set in the mid-South and, though contemporary, are oddly blurred by a nostalgia that veers toward regional stereotype. Amusing at times, Holladay's flair for the invention of quirky, small-town oddballs ultimately weakens the collection; more caricatures than characters, their development is often wan. Though her characters are limited in terms of both ability and circumstance, Holladay's sympathy for them is evident, and, to her credit, she resists miraculous transformations. In "White Lilies," an adolescent boy's maturity is hastened when he contemplates his father's death from leukemia. The most ambitious and resonant piece in the collection, "Merry-Go-Sorry," centers on the aftermath of a triple murder in a small Arkansas community. Among an impressive array of points-of-view, including the families of both the victims and the alleged murderers, Farmer McKenzie achieves the collection's overarching insight: "Sowing and reaping, he adds up what he knows and finds it wanting." Despite their noble efforts, the truisms and modest insights these characters achieve can't save them--precisely because these people are too clearly invented solely in order to achieve their cliched epiphanies.
Linda Barrett Osborne
...[An] artful collection....within [the stories] lie both the seeds of survival and the possibility of epiphany. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826211866
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 9/17/1998
  • Pages: 213
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Cary Holladay is the winner of several literary prizes, including the O. Henry Short Story Contest and the American Literary Review fiction contest. She is the author of the acclaimed short-story collection The People Down South.

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Table of Contents

The Belle Glade 1
Runaways 17
Rapture 39
Doll 61
White Lilies 85
The Egg Man 104
Manna from the Sky 125
The Girl Who Died in a Dance Marathon 141
Merry-Go-Sorry 161
Mayflies 195
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