Touch Wood

Touch Wood

by Joe Ashby Porter

“Porter is one of the most consistently rewarding writers in the United States and also among the most intelligent.”—Stephen Dixon  See more details below


“Porter is one of the most consistently rewarding writers in the United States and also among the most intelligent.”—Stephen Dixon

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Review
A slim but varied and accomplished third collection from a Pulitzer-nominee (The Kentucky Stories, 1983, not reviewed; Eelgrass, 1977, etc.). Porter's tales here are like modern art. As often as they demand meaning they question the relevance of it. And they are never about any one thing: a story that seems to be set in a French prison might suddenly become a lecture on the predictability of waves, or a couple's encounter with a pseudo-pirate might lead into a discussion of 1950s crooners, or a story might be entirely and literally cerebral, as in "In the Mind." The challenge is that there's nothing simple: "A Man Wanted to Buy a Cat" is a weird, poetic episode about a man who covets his neighbor's cat, but it's really about rediscovering the pleasure of family; the fast-forward feel of Native American lives in "Naufrage and Diapason" simulates the choppy, disappearing wake of the ship of opportunity where we are told, "What is life after all but a piece of stretched meat? The story ratchets along regardless." A lengthy and moving biography of a lighthouse operator on the Tunisian island of La Galite comes in "Scrupulous Amedee," while the occasion of a hair-wrap in Key West ("Bone Key") becomes an explanation of that odd town's sensibility and a portrait of its underworld. "A Pear-Shaped Woman and a Fuddy-Duddy" begins a more self-aware movement in the stories, with characters attending a "character festival" in which they search for memorable characters in Mississippi only to reveal that they themselves are memorable. And the title piece, which closes the volume, is a series of random semi-stories injected with rhetoric on the effect of modern storytelling. Smart, hard, and rewarding.
O'Laughlin, James
This third collection of stories from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Kentucky Stories offers us a mixture of realistic and fabulist fictions, all of them reflecting Porter's keen sense of the unusual and the ironic in the everyday. The title story tells of (improbable) consequences following a missed phone connection between a woman and her lover and then tells the story of that story's impact on various people, with great or unfortunate consequences, alternately. The remarkable "Bone Key" shows life in Key West through the eyes of a sidewalk hair wrapper, attuning himself to the sensibilities of assorted clients and curious "passersby covered in jangling idiosyncrasies" and reflecting on his day job at IBM and the layoffs he must make there. This character's perspective counters, perhaps at least partly, the "illusion of sightlessness" that spectators and performers alike find appealing. Porter is effective at using quite long sentences to plunge us fully into his character's worlds, at elaborating whole scenarios or background stories in a single sentence, and at ironic, fablelike endings, as in "A Man Wanted to Buy a Cat.
Publishers Weekly
Porter (Eelgrass; Resident Aliens) brings his distinctive style to a variety of odd situations in these 10 stories, which often end up in literary destinations far from their point of origin. The collection begins amusingly with "A Man Wanted to Buy a Cat," which features a man so smitten with a milliner's cat that he contemplates kidnapping it, even though his spouse is extremely allergic to the species. "Schrekx and Son" is a sort of sexual rite of passage, as a Parisian father passes on some rather disquieting information about marriage and dating to his son, who, at 31, is just beginning to dip his toes into the mating pool. "A Pear-Shaped Woman and a Fuddy Duddy" is a delightfully weird exercise in which protagonists Lucille and Elmer descend upon Biloxi for a "character festival" and begin arcane interrogations of the locals, until the focus shifts to an in-depth discussion of smells with other festivalgoers. In "Scrupulous Am d e," the author effectively narrates the mysterious romances and illnesses of a French lighthouse keeper, although the extended format comes close to stretching his prose tricks to the limit. Porter's tendency to deliver elliptical, down-to-earth renderings of his character's inner lives may be an acquired taste, but his agile mind and unusual take on even the most mundane elements of people's daily routines make this a challenging but constantly entertaining read. As Porter puts it in the title story: "Deep perplexity gathers to a wave. Good comes of it." (Sept.)

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Product Details

Turtle Point Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.50(d)

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Meet the Author

Winner of the Academy Award (2004) from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Porter is the author of three short story collections: The Kentucky Stories, Lithuania, and Touch Wood (Turtle Point, 2002); two novels: Eelgrass and Resident Aliens; and two nonfiction books on William Shakespeare. He has won Pushcart Prizes, NEA/PEN Syndicated Fiction awards, and fellowships from the NEA.

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