Collected here for the first time are the complete short stories of “a singular American visionary” (New York Times). The publication of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy is a literary event that marks the first time all of James Purdy’s short stories—fifty-six in number, including seven drawn from his unpublished archives—have been collected in a single volume. As prolific as he was unclassifiable, James Purdy was considered one of the greatest—and most ...
Collected here for the first time are the complete short stories of “a singular American visionary” (New York Times).
The publication of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy is a literary event that marks the first time all of James Purdy’s short stories—fifty-six in number, including seven drawn from his unpublished archives—have been collected in a single volume. As prolific as he was unclassifiable, James Purdy was considered one of the greatest—and most underappreciated—writers in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. Championed by writers as diverse as Dame Edith Sitwell, Gore Vidal, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Carl Van Vechten, John Cowper Powys, and Dorothy Parker, Purdy’s vast body of work has heretofore been relegated to the avant-garde fringes of the American literary mainstream.
His unique form and variety of style made the Ohio-born Purdy impossible to categorize in standard terms, though his unique, mercurial talent garnered him a following of loyal readers and made him—in the words of Susan Sontag—“one of the half dozen or so living American writers worth taking seriously." Purdy’s journey to recognition came with as much outrage and condemnation as it did lavish praise and lasting admiration. Some early assessments even dismissed his work as that of a disturbed mind, while others acclaimed the very same work as healing and transformative. Purdy's fiction was considered so uniquely unsettling that his first book, Don't Call Me by My Right Name, a collection of short stories all reprinted in this edition, had to be printed privately in the United States in 1956, after first being published in England.Best known for his novels Malcolm, Cabot Wright Begins, Jeremy's Version, and Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Purdy captured an America that was at once highly realistic and deeply symbolic, a landscape filled with social outcasts living in crisis and longing for love, characterized by his dark sense of humor and unflinching eye. Love, disillusionment, the collapse of the family, ecstatic longing, sharp inner pain, and shocking eruptions of violence pervade the lives of his characters in stories that anticipate both "David Lynch and Desperate Housewives" (Guardian). In "Color of Darkness," for example, a lonely child attempts to swallow his father's wedding ring; in "Eventide," the anguish of two sisters over the loss of their sons is deeply felt in the summer heat; and in the gothic horror of "Mr. Evening," a young man is hypnotized and imprisoned by a predatory old woman. These stories and many others, both haunting and hilarious, form a canvas of deep desperation and immanent sympathy, as Purdy narrates "the inexorable progress toward disaster in such a way that it's as satisfying and somehow life-affirming as progress toward a happy ending" (Jonathan Franzen).It may have taken over fifty years, but American culture is finally in sync with James Purdy. As John Waters writes in his introduction, Purdy, far from the fringe, has "been dead center in the black little hearts of provocateur-hungry readers like myself right from the beginning."
The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy…brings together old and new in one twisted, occasionally surreal burlesque, spanning roughly six decades and held together by that oddly formal voice that seems to belong to none of them…This is the Purdy method: dispense with externals to get at more interior sins. He dealt in myths and universals, not daily reality. Many of the earliest stories are little more than dialogues; the later ones include cracked fairy tales involving cannibals or talking cats. This "tell don't show" can make the prose feel antique or overeager, but it also creates space for Purdy's dark humor.
Purdy’s gift for capturing the despair in people’s lives is abundantly present in this collection of 58 stories. A wife’s disdain for her husband is exemplified in her lack of confidence that he can change a refrigerator’s lightbulb, in “Man and Wife.” The doctor of “Ruthanna Elder,” who has delivered more than 2,000 babies, attributes his insomnia to “too meticulous a memory of the subsequent lives” they led, which weighed on him like “slabs from the stone quarry.” Purdy can sum up a character in a phrase—a college acquaintance seen two decades later is described as having a body “so loose and yet heavy as though the passions and anguish of man had never coursed through it.” When he’s at his best, his brief glimpses into troubled lives are painful to read. He’s less successful when he tries his hand at fables; entries like “Mud Toe the Cannibal” and “Kitty Blue” are unremarkable. Noir fans who like nothing better than to peer into the windows of broken souls but don’t need blood to enjoy the view will agree with Waters’s note in his introduction that this complete volume (“here they all are at last”) of “perfectly perverted” stories is a treasure. (July)
Tom Lavoie - Shelf Awareness
“His subject matter is a cross between Nathanael West (sans Hollywood) and Flannery O'Connor (sans religion) …. As a fearless iconoclast, Purdy deserves our rediscovery. The seemingly simple yet compelling prose of The Complete Short Stories belies the haunting, slightly creepy stories that live within.”
“His style is impulsive and prodding, uniquely his own, and uniquely haunting.”
The late (1914–2009) fiction writer, whose work sharply divided critical opinion from the start, receives his due with this vast but fast-moving collection of short stories. Dip into the book, counsels fugitive filmmaker John Waters in his introduction, and you'll find "a perfectly perverted Purdy story," one that, he adds, will yield "hilarious moral damage and beautiful decay that will certainly follow in your dreams." The description seems apt, though Purdy's themes, sometimes homoerotic and sometimes obsessive, transcend the merely sexual: Waters' word "perverted" might more closely track Purdy's gloomy, angry, mistrustful sense of the world. His characters are often argumentative, bitter, unhappy, full of malign intent. In one particularly unpleasant example, a woman awakens as if from a dream to decide that after years of married life she cannot stand her husband's name--and by extension, her husband. He repays the sentiment by hitting her "not too gently over the mouth," making her bleed and drawing a crowd. In another, a young man murders a "young uncle" for what he considers good cause and then shoots himself: "his brains and pieces of skull rushed out from under his fair curly hair onto the glass behind the pillars, onto the screen door, the blood flew like a gentle summer shower." In yet another, a less violent Chekhov pastiche, a swindle takes flight as a "whim of Fortune," ruinous for some and a boon for others. You'll either be enchanted or repelled, and Purdy seems to occupy no middle ground: Whereas Jonathan Franzen has championed him, Edmund White has professed to be "allergic" to Purdy's work. A bonus: Several of the stories are previously unpublished, some by design. A completist's dream, as well as a comprehensive overview of Purdy's themes and--yes--obsessions.
Jerome Charyn - The Daily Beast
“Like Herman Melville, his closest literary ancestor, he was unremembered when he died in 2009 at age 94, one more Ishmael, with a small coterie of followers…. Now Purdy has leaped out of his own shallow grave—four years after his death, we have The Complete Stories of James Purdy…. In his very best stories and novels Purdy has invented a poetic dreamscape where evil and naiveté collide. He is an enchanter of lost souls who delights and disturbs us with his wayward, winsome ghosts.”
Vinton Rafe McCabe - New York Journal of Books
“At last we have this edition of stories through which we can celebrate his talent. And through which newcomers can have the opportunity to come to know him and the fictional world that he inhabits…. The greatest beauty of this collection is that from first to last—from the juvenilia (which, admittedly, gives only a glimpse of what is to come) to his final tale, the brief and wry Adeline written when he was 92—James Purdy captivates. And that is more than reason enough to celebrate this bravura edition.”
Jeff Simon - Buffalo News
“The current and, no doubt, game-changing Complete Short Stories may not do for Purdy what Cheever’s Collected Stories did for him but it will surely shake things up radically…. That roiling sound you hear off in the distance is James Purdy, at long last, joining the mainstream.”
The New Yorker
“Purdy’s short stories are often brief and propelled by dialogue rich with the quirks and profanities of the American vernacular…. They also tend to convey a pervasive sense of moral compromise or emotional damage in the lives of their characters…. The thick volume gathers all of Purdy’s stories—fifty-six in all, including seven previously unpublished ones—for the first time.”
John Leland - New York Times Book Review
“Stories materialize as if from dreams… He dealt in myths and universals, not daily reality…. Purdy’s characters never question the fallen state of the world in which they find themselves or the terrible things done to or by otherwise unexceptional individuals. The author makes no claims that they deserve better, or that problems are there to be solved. Even in the more naturalistic stories, violence and sexual compulsion, gay and straight, are part of the background music. Maliciousness is just another word for manners.”
“He takes up where the rest of us leave off…What constitutes in extremis for most of us is the daily bread of Mr. Purdy’s world. He lets you try on desperation, and you find that it fits you better than you expected. His most bizarre freaks don’t feel freakish. They feel, peculiarly, like me.”
“A writer of the highest rank in originality, insight and power.”
“James Purdy’s characters and situations linger in the memory.”
“Think of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy as a ten-pound box of poison chocolates you keep beside your bed—fairy tales for your twisted mind that should never be described to the innocent. Randomly select a perfectly perverted Purdy story and read it before you go to sleep and savor the hilarious moral damage and beautiful decay that will certainly follow in your dreams.”
“He may shock and offend some partisans of the well-trodden paths in fiction, but he will surely enchant the reader who values a new expression of new feeling and experience in our very new time.”