Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Overview

From the author of the beloved novel The Giant’s House—finalist for the National Book Award—comes a beautiful new story collection, her first in twenty years. Laced through with the humor, the empathy, and the rare and magical descriptive powers that have led Elizabeth McCracken’s fiction to be hailed as “exquisite” (The New York Times Book Review), “funny and heartbreaking” (The Boston Globe), and “a true marvel” (San Francisco Chronicle), these nine vibrant stories navigate the fragile space between love and ...

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Overview

From the author of the beloved novel The Giant’s House—finalist for the National Book Award—comes a beautiful new story collection, her first in twenty years. Laced through with the humor, the empathy, and the rare and magical descriptive powers that have led Elizabeth McCracken’s fiction to be hailed as “exquisite” (The New York Times Book Review), “funny and heartbreaking” (The Boston Globe), and “a true marvel” (San Francisco Chronicle), these nine vibrant stories navigate the fragile space between love and loneliness. In “Property,” selected by Geraldine Brooks for The Best American Short Stories, a young scholar, grieving the sudden death of his wife, decides to refurbish the Maine rental house they were to share together by removing his landlord’s possessions. In “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey,” the household of a successful filmmaker is visited years later by his famous first subject, whose trust he betrayed. In “The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston,” the manager of a grocery store becomes fixated on the famous case of a missing local woman, and on the fate of the teenage son she left behind. And in the unforgettable title story, a family makes a quixotic decision to flee to Paris for a summer, only to find their lives altered in an unimaginable way by their teenage daughter’s risky behavior.
 
In Elizabeth McCracken’s universe, heartache is always interwoven with strange, charmed moments of joy—an unexpected conversation with small children, the gift of a parrot with a bad French accent—that remind us of the wonder and mystery of being alive. Thunderstruck & Other Stories shows this inimitable writer working at the full height of her powers.
 
Praise for Thunderstruck & Other Stories
 
“Elizabeth McCracken knows how loss can melt reality, forever altering a person’s sense of time. . . . In her new collection, McCracken gives brilliantly splintered life to just that kind of story. . . . The fact that there is nothing depressing about the ubiquity of accident and disaster in Thunderstruck & Other Stories is a powerful testament to the scratchy humor and warm intelligence of McCracken’s writing. . . . Her wisdom and wit have a moral dimension that deepens our sympathy for her straying souls. . . . [A] restorative, unforgettable collection.”—Sylvia Brownrigg, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

“Stunningly beautiful . . . brilliantly moving . . . Moments of joy and pure magic flicker and pitch-perfect humor acts as a furtive SOS signal through the fog of loss.”Los Angeles Times

“The draw here is mesmerizing strangeness, heightened by McCracken’s extraordinary images. . . . McCracken’s description of eyeglasses which are ‘the opposite of the weather: overcast when it was bright, clear when it was cloudy’ will color the way you see transition lenses as surely as her off-kilter tales will subtly shade your view of love and parenting. . . . McCracken explores her characters’ subtexts even as she catches them in the car wrecks of their lives. To resist gawking is hopeless.”—NPR

“Elizabeth McCracken is one of my favorite writers. Or, to put it another way: I’ve read everything she’s written . . . and there’s nothing I haven’t liked and admired enormously. . . . She writes with acuity, soul, and a kind of easy grace that probably kills her, about characters she has created to love. . . . Anything new by her is an excuse for wild, drunken celebration.” —Nick Hornby, The Believer

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sylvia Brownrigg
In An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, a deeply affecting memoir about the stillbirth of her son, [McCracken] tells us that she sought to write "a book that acknowledges that life goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story." In her new collection, McCracken gives brilliantly splintered life to just that kind of story: These pages are filled with sudden deaths and lingering ghosts, some passings that are imminent, others that are uncertain or inferred. The fact that there is nothing depressing about the ubiquity of accident and disaster in Thunderstruck and Other Stories is a powerful testament to the scratchy humor and warm intelligence of McCracken's writing…If many of McCracken's characters are mourning the loss of someone essential, it isn't so that she can instruct us, condescendingly, in the art of recovery. Rather, she uses this mourning to show us, again and again, just how proximate joy is to its antithesis. "This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," McCracken writes in her memoir. In this restorative, unforgettable collection, she allows that paradox to go both ways.
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/11/2013
McCracken’s short stories are like no others. Her distinctive voice, her slightly askew manner of looking at the world, her mix of mordant humor and tenderness, her sense of life’s ironies, and the jolt of electricity at the end of each tale make her work arresting and memorable. In this collection of nine short narratives (McCracken’s return to short fiction 20 years after Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry), a feckless, improvident father mourns the unwitting example he has set for his son; a grieving mother finds solace in a neighbor’s child, while that child’s mother is about to undergo a tragic loss; and a librarian has to live with a disastrous memory. In the title story, a father who must come to terms with his daughter’s brain injury muses: “Happiness was a narrow tank. You had to make sure that you cleared the lip.” These stories, set in France, Massachusetts, Maine, and Iowa, are macabre yet anchored by precise details and psychological insight; they turn on ironic twists of fate and seesaws of luck. Readers will enjoy reading them twice—the first time quickly, because the plots are mesmerizing and strange, and the second to relish the dozens of images, aperçus, and descriptions (a handsaw is “a house key from a giant’s pocket”; “His hair looked like it had been combed with a piece of buttered toast”; “Amazing how death made petty disappointments into operatic insults”). McCracken transforms life’s dead ends into transformational visions. Agent; Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“Elizabeth McCracken knows how loss can melt reality, forever altering a person’s sense of time. . . . In her new collection, McCracken gives brilliantly splintered life to just that kind of story. . . . The fact that there is nothing depressing about the ubiquity of accident and disaster in Thunderstruck & Other Stories is a powerful testament to the scratchy humor and warm intelligence of McCracken’s writing. . . . Her wisdom and wit have a moral dimension that deepens our sympathy for her straying souls. . . . [A] restorative, unforgettable collection.”—Sylvia Brownrigg, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

“Stunningly beautiful . . . brilliantly moving . . . Moments of joy and pure magic flicker and pitch-perfect humor acts as a furtive SOS signal through the fog of loss.”Los Angeles Times

“The draw here is mesmerizing strangeness, heightened by McCracken’s extraordinary images. . . . McCracken’s description of eyeglasses which are ‘the opposite of the weather: overcast when it was bright, clear when it was cloudy’ will color the way you see transition lenses as surely as her off-kilter tales will subtly shade your view of love and parenting. . . . McCracken explores her characters' subtexts even as she catches them in the car wrecks of their lives. To resist gawking is hopeless. Brace yourself for rubbernecking delays.”—NPR

“Elizabeth McCracken is one of my favorite writers. Or, to put it another way: I’ve read everything she’s written . . . and there’s nothing I haven’t liked and admired enormously. . . . She writes with acuity, soul, and a kind of easy grace that probably kills her, about characters she has created to love. . . . ‘Thunderstruck’ showcases all the things this remarkable writer is so good at: the eccentric but illuminating metaphors, the deft characterization, the heart-lurching narrative development, the tenderness, the fantastic aphorisms. . . . Anything new by her is an excuse for wild, drunken celebration.” —Nick Hornby, The Believer
 
“Each of Thunderstruck’s nine stories is a storm: delightful and destructive, packed with electricity, fascinating to watch unfold from the safe harbor of a comfortable chair.”Salon

“To read Elizabeth McCracken is to understand why the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Book Award and other prestigious institutions have awarded her their fellowships, accolades and grants. . . . [Thunderstruck & Other Stories] is a hole you fall into, delicious, dark and deep.”Chicago Tribune

“What is life made of? What is left when it falls apart? In her first collection of short stories in twenty years, Elizabeth McCracken answers these questions . . . [in] beautifully wrought mini-dramas.”The Boston Globe
 
“Brilliant . . . captivating . . . electrifying . . . Let’s not forget the meticulous qualities of McCracken’s sinuous prose, or the ingenuity of her plots.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“McCracken’s stories are fresh, peculiar and always entertaining.”The Huffington Post

“McCracken writes gorgeously sharp and insistent prose; her stories dazzle, uniquely angled and original.”More

“[Elizabeth McCracken] writes sentences so beautiful you’ll want to stand up and applaud. I underlined so many phrases and details my copy is a mess, but that still didn’t keep me from lending it to my best friend. . . . McCracken’s revelatory prose style makes it impossible for even the bleakest story lines to feel like anything short of a blessing.”Cosmopolitan

“There’s a strange magic . . . in Elizabeth McCracken’s work.”Reader’s Digest

“The stories in Elizabeth McCracken’s latest collection land as swift and true as a prizefighter’s blows, and often they feel just as powerful, emotionally speaking. . . . The psychological punches McCracken delivers, with her keen sense of irony and mordant humor, are unforgettable.”The Miami Herald
 
“Haunting . . . McCracken assigns herself the task of showing her readers that there is no prescribed way to grieve or to love.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Extraordinary . . . In story after story, McCracken looks at the complexity of grief. At the same time, her quick eye never misses the strange little joys life comes up with.”The Dallas Morning News

“It’s a rare story collection that starts strong and ends up even stronger. In her new book, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, award-winning novelist Elizabeth McCracken achieves this result through a combination of nonchalance, empathy and sheer intelligence. . . . There’s no dearth of fine authors who have taken to writing short stories of late. Few, however, possess McCracken’s full palette of hues, tones and shadows. This is three-dimensional writing at its most vivid.”Portland Press Herald

“Magnetic . . . Anyone who enjoys short fiction will find pleasure and substance in McCracken’s witty, world-wise collection.”Library Journal

“[Elizabeth] McCracken’s short stories are like no others. Her distinctive voice, her slightly askew manner of looking at the world, her mix of mordant humor and tenderness, her sense of life’s ironies, and the jolt of electricity at the end of each tale make her work arresting and memorable. . . . Readers will enjoy reading them twice—the first time quickly, because the plots are mesmerizing and strange, and the second to relish the dozens of images, aperçus, and descriptions. . . . McCracken transforms life’s dead ends into transformational visions.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Marvelously quirky, ironic, but, most of all, poignant . . . McCracken paints [her characters] with such rich detail that it feels as if we must know them.”Booklist

“A bracing collection . . . The connecting notion—that love’s great capacity for tenderness must bear the risk of pain—is depicted with both joy and ruthlessness.”—Shelf Awareness

“Elizabeth McCracken’s magnificent stories are in a category all their own. They tremble with life, quake with heart-rending emotion, shine with wicked humor, and linger with a beautiful urgency. Thunderstruck & Other Stories is a stunning collection, a powerhouse of invention and heart and rare, buoyant curiosity.”—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
 
“It’s rare for title and book to work so well, in fact so perfectly, together. In this vibrant, darkly funny, deeply tender collection, the reader is thunderstruck, again and again, by Elizabeth McCracken’s endless gifts of plot, prose and insight that is as compassionate and sharp as one can bear.”—Amy Bloom, bestselling author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out and Away

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-06
These nine stories from fiction and memoir author McCracken (An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, 2008, etc.) excavate unexplored permutations of loss and grief. The volume starts and ends with bookending wallops. The opener, "Something Amazing"—combining a not-quite-ghost story about a grieving mother "haunted" by her dead child with the unfolding story of a mother unaware she is about to suffer her own loss—taps into every parent's worst fears. The final story, "Thunderstruck," follows a family in which the mother and father react in very different ways after their joint efforts to be good parents disastrously backfire. The rest of the volume deals with various forms of sorrow and coping. "Property" considers the stuff of grief as a newly widowed man moves into a rental house full of what he considers junk left by the house's owner. In "Some Terpsichore," a woman remembers an abusive former lover with horror and nostalgia. Memory also plays tricks in "The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston": A store manager's memory of helping a young boy he once discovered being starved by his grandfather sustains him through his own losses, but the boy, now grown, remembers the incident differently. In "Juliet," the murder of a library patron causes a series of off-kilter reactions among the librarians, showing that guilt is not limited to perpetrators or sorrow, to those officially bereaved. In "The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs," a foolhardy expat in rural France realizes his son, whom he's raised with outrageous carelessness, has betrayed his trust and left him broke. "Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey" describes a different kind of betrayal when a dying man attempts to visit the former friend who ruined his life. In the surprisingly tender "Hungry," about a woman caring for her granddaughter while the girl's father (the woman's son) lies in the hospital, food and a patriotic speech serve as metaphors for the power and limitations of love. McCracken's skewed perspectives make this a powerfully if quietly disturbing volume.
Library Journal
03/15/2014
A young girl's ghost, two three-legged dogs, and a comatose American preteen in Paris are a few of the characters who live inside McCracken's bizarre and magnetic gallery of short fiction. In "Something Amazing," a woman is haunted by the recent death of her six-year-old daughter but discovers some release and joy in an unexpected place. "Some Terpsichore" tells how the strange love between a man who plays a saw with a bowlike instrument and his wife, whose singing voice mimics the sound of the musical saw, flickers out when he becomes depressive and physically abusive. At the heart of these pieces and her collection as a whole, McCracken (The Giant's House) examines the connections among human beings and what happens when they lose one another. Through death, medical trauma, or some other mystery or disappearance, life changes for the individuals in these stories, not only for those who are left behind to live with the memory of their loved ones but for neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers. VERDICT Anyone who enjoys short fiction will find pleasure and substance in McCracken's witty, world-wise collection. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/14.]—Shannon Greene, Greenville Technical Coll. Lib., SC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385335775
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 83,091
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, The Giant’s House, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry, and Niagara Falls All Over Again. A former public librarian, she is now a faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin, and has received grants and awards from numerous organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the American Academy in Berlin. Elizabeth is married to the novelist and illustrator Edward Carey.

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