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Read This and Tell Me What It Says

Read This and Tell Me What It Says

by A. Manette Ansay
In her first full-length story collection, author A. Manette Ansay explores the rural Midwest landscape and the people who inhabit it: ordinary folk with extraordinary inner lives, struggling to make sense of the isolated, sometimes painful, and often intensely religious worlds in which they live. Her are 15 haunting and exquisitely written tales that offer a rare


In her first full-length story collection, author A. Manette Ansay explores the rural Midwest landscape and the people who inhabit it: ordinary folk with extraordinary inner lives, struggling to make sense of the isolated, sometimes painful, and often intensely religious worlds in which they live. Her are 15 haunting and exquisitely written tales that offer a rare and unforgettable glimpse into the complexities of being human and being alive.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Holly's Field, Wis., the setting for Ansay's well-received debut novel, Vinegar Hill, again serves as background for many of the 15 precisely crafted, haunting stories in her first collection. The people in this town in the heartland of America try to make do with their lots in life, but many of them are already alienated or isolated and know that things will never get any better. In "Ohio,'' 14-year-old Stuart travels to Massachusetts to visit the father who left the family and the church where he had been a pastor. Stuart's father lives with a woman he is not married to and has a daughter named Mars. Although Stuart's mission is to win his father's heart back to Christ, by the end of his trip it is he who has had his eyes opened, who says he has the "sense you've crossed over to some distant place and stayed just a moment too long, so that return is no longer a possibility.'' The adults in this harsh Midwestern landscape deal with poverty, sickness, aging and the desire to transcend their daily lives. Geraldine's husband, in "You or Me or Anything,'' drives off into the snow one day and calls from different points along his meandering route, to tell her that he's not coming back, she should be sure to let the dog in at night, there's a blizzard in Minnesota. The stressed-out 15-year-old narrator of the title story, which won the 1992 Nelson Algren Prize, has become a compulsive thief because it helps her mind to grow "absolutely still, that stillness you get when you walk into a church and know that you are safe there.'' Pressured by her family's expectations of academic success, she recklessly gambles with her future, and her life. All of Ansay's characters have a dignity earned by coping with their existence; they elicit compassion from the reader, but not pity, because they are strong and will come through. Stubborn and resourceful, they endow her fictional town with presence and credibility.
Library Journal
Poignant, mostly realistic short stories that peel into family lives in a fictional Wisconsin town make up this collection by the author of Vinegar Hill (LJ 8/94). In "Smoke," a widow haunted by her dead husband is protected from him by her cats, who are finally taken away by a well-meaning neighbor. In the title story, a hyperactive father who never learned to read well issues the title's command to his teenage daughter when the mail comes. The daughter is the family's hope; her ambitious mother applies to 50 colleges on her behalf. When she is finally accepted into a music school with a teacher's help, the family's happiness is short-lived as they learn of her brother's arrest. Sad, literary tales with a Midwestern sensibility; for larger general collections.-Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Jonis Agee
A. Manette Ansay's stories maps the distances between ourselves and other worlds. In so doing, they remind of how necessary our dreams and desires are to the fragile lives we piece together, and how, as much as anything, it is the act of creating and living that brings joy and redemption.
New York Times Book Review

Product Details

University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.53(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

At night, my brother heard wolves in the corn. There were no wolves left in southeastern Wisconsin, but Alex had seen their yellow-slit eyes, their long teeth brighter than moonlight. He listened to them mutter in the language of wolves on those nights when he crouched by my window, shivering in his BvD's, staring out at the cornfield that began ten feet from the house. Occasionally, we'd see the glowing eyes of a deer or raccoon -striped or one of the tiger cats that lived, half wild, in the barn. Once we saw a fox, brief as a breath of smoke. But the wolves stayed slyly hidden, slipping between the stalks only when the vnnd blew, rustling the leaves with their tails."Wolves," Alex told me, "are smarter than most people. They are smarter than astronauts and doctors. They live in cities built deep under die ground."We were sitting in the apple tree we'd claimed for our own by carving our initials near the top. It was June, and most of the tree was still in blossom; if I squinted, the petals blurred and made the leaves look like they were covered in snow. But Alex diddt seem to notice the blossoms, or the bees hanging above our heads, or die sound the bees made which rose and fell like the sound of someone breathing."The mind of a wolf is like a maze," he said. "No human being can figure out exactly how it works.""What about scientists?" I said."When the moon is full," Alex said, ignoring me, "wolves speak in a language no one else can understand.'His pale hair reached to his shoulder blades; the soles of his feet, dangling near my head, were stained the color of grass. I listened to him as politely as I could, but I preferred my own thoughts to my brother's, and I wanted to go back tothe house and lie on my bed, as I often did for hours, letting the breeze from the open windows ruffle over me. My bedroom had once been my mother's, and it still had the same pink walls and gray trim, the lacy white curtains, the bed frame carved with flowers that my grandfather had finished just one day before he died. Alex's room faced the highway where he claimed the wolves were afraid to go; he bribed me with candy and cap pistols and robin's eggs, but I wouldn't trade rooms because I loved to lie in bed and imagine my mother as a young girl. She'd been bright, I knew, and pretty- She liked to read, and filled sketchbooks with drawings of flowers and sunsets and trees. At night, I fell asleep imagining the sound of her voice, and in the morning, when I woke up, I could hear her talking quietly to my grandmother in their room. Sometimes Alex would still be under my window, wrapped in the bear's paw quilt he'd swiped from the foot of my bed, his pale hair glowing sunlight. After breakfast, after chores, we walked down to the orchard and climbed into our tree, looking out across the fruit trees and the surrounding fields of corn, past the house and the barn and the milkhouse forming a crescent around the courtyard, down the dirt mad which led to the highway, searching for the subtle signs a careless wolf might leave behind. We had moved in with my grandmother at the beginning of the summer, after my father announced he was hitching west to Caffor- nia with a woman named Marge. He brought her to our house just before they left: my mother served coffee while Alex and I sat on the couch, dressed in Sunday clothes, snitching candy rais table. Marge had wrinkly hair and I laugh that echoed in our ears like a slap. She called us kiddos and my mother dear. She and my father sat side by side on the padded folding chairs my mother brought out for company. "I want all of you to get along," my father said. He kept his hand on Marge's arm as if he thought she might jump up at any moment. He looked unfamiliar, and I stared at him until my mother tapped my knee with her finger, her signal that I shouldn't be rude. She wore a white dress printed with yellow and pink flowers; her hair was braided neatly and tied with a pink ribbon. She looked fresh and bright as a doll, with her pretty dress and tiny doll's feet, and watching her, I felt proud. But when she poured coffee into my father's cup, her hand shook, and coffee spilled down the front of her dress."Oh, I'm so sorry," she said to no one in particular."I always do things like that," Marge said, and she laughed her ringing laugh. She wore jeans and a man's flannel shirt, untucked. Her hair was cut short; practical hair. "If you use cold water right away it won't stain.""I'm so embarrassed," my mother said. She did not leave to wash it out with cold water. Instead, she scrubbed at the brown streak with her napkin. By the time my father and Marge stood up to go, it had faded almost gold. My father kissed me, suddenly, on the forehead. The kiss sounded like stepping in something wet. I wiped it away and my father laughed."These kids are too old for kissing" he said. Then he shook Alex's hand. From the way Alex bit his lip I could tell my father had squeezed too hard."We'll be sure and write you kiddos soon," Marge said.And, after we'd moved to my grandmother's, we did get one in a strange, spiky hand: Dear Alex and Susan, Today we saw mountains bigger than anything you can imagine. Love, your dad and Marge.

What People are Saying About This

"Manette Ansay is a powerful storyteller with lyrical gifts and a rye, observant eye."
Madison Smartt
Refined to the utmost subtlity, Minnette Ansay's prose style cuts with a diamond edge.
Amy Tan
Manette Ansay is a powerful storyteller with lyrical gifts and a wry, observant eye.

Meet the Author

A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.

Brief Biography

Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Lapeer, Michigan
MFA, Cornell University, 1991

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