Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money

Overview

In this dazzling literary debut, Rebecca Curtis displays the gifts that make her one of the most talented writers of her generation. Her characters—young women struggling to find happiness, love, success, security, and adventure—wait tables, run away from home, fall for married men, betray their friends, and find themselves betrayed as well.

In "Hungry Self," a young waitress descends into the basement of a seemingly ordinary Chinese restaurant; in "Twenty Grand," a young wife ...

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Overview

In this dazzling literary debut, Rebecca Curtis displays the gifts that make her one of the most talented writers of her generation. Her characters—young women struggling to find happiness, love, success, security, and adventure—wait tables, run away from home, fall for married men, betray their friends, and find themselves betrayed as well.

In "Hungry Self," a young waitress descends into the basement of a seemingly ordinary Chinese restaurant; in "Twenty Grand," a young wife tries to recover her lost fortune; in "Monsters," one family's paranoia leads to a sacrifice; and in "The Witches," an innocent swim on prom night proves more dangerous than anyone could have imagined. With elegant prose and a wicked sense of humor, these stories reveal Curtis's provocative and uncompromising view of life, one that makes her writing so poignant and irresistible.

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Editorial Reviews

Gary Shteyngart
“A book as delightful as it is disturbing.”
George Saunders
“Rebecca Curtis is one of the most exciting practitioners of this most difficult form in America today.”
The Village Voice
“An instant classic. . . . Rebecca Curtis is a hugely talented writer.”
The Los Angeles Times
“Gorgeous. . . . Vivid imagery suffused with longing: The stories in Rebecca Curtis’ Twenty Grand are satisfingly bittersweet.”
The Los Angeles Times
“Gorgeous. . . . Vivid imagery suffused with longing: The stories in Rebecca Curtis’ Twenty Grand are satisfingly bittersweet.”
The Village Voice
“An instant classic. . . . Rebecca Curtis is a hugely talented writer.”
Curtis Sittenfeld
Not long ago, in a conversation with my father, I described a person I knew by saying he had an edge. It quickly became clear that my father assumed my description was a criticism when in fact I'd meant it in a positive way. I was reminded of this conversation while reading Rebecca Curtis's debut story collection, Twenty Grand. Curtis's stories, almost all of them first published in The New Yorker and other literary magazines, definitely have an edge. I'm pretty sure my father would find them weird and depressing. I think they're terrific.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Mostly female loners, outsiders and have-nots populate this marvelous, bleak debut collection. A young woman extracts herself from an overly insistent blind date who violates her privacy in "Big Bear, California," only to find her usual certainty shaken years later by the memory of his grasping, petulant behavior. In "Summer, with Twins," a college-age woman waitressing during the break wavers in declining her greasy boss's indecent proposal, perpetuating a crisis of self-worth that reverberates through her tenuous summer friendships. Among the 13 pieces, surreal vignettes serve as a taut, dramatic counterpart to the more straightforward narratives: "The Wolf at the Door" in particular has a being-chased-in-your-dreams feel of danger and terror, as a woman battles to keep an anthropomorphic wolf from entering her house, until he asks her to open the door and her sister insists that she do so, saying, "it's polite!" Delving into extremes of monotonous oppression, Curtis describes a reality that must be endured: her characters cling fiercely to their rationalizations, but even the more avaricious are sympathetic. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Curtis explores subjects mundane and fantastical in her first book, a collection of stories. The subtitle promises "tales of love and money," and when she actually focuses on money and its absence, or on the forces that bring people together and push them apart, Curtis is outstanding. In "Hungry Self" and "Summer, with Twins," she renders the fraught monotony and borderline poverty of waitressing in exquisite detail, and, in the former story, she captures the dumb grandiloquence and frequent hopelessness of adolescent longing in one magnificent line: "I was terribly in love with him, but we were separated by race and by the fact that he hated me." "The Alpine Slide," the story of a girl's first job at a doomed summer attraction, covers similar ground and is similarly excellent, and the title story is a bleak, tender, well-crafted look at a dissolute family losing its one chance at solvency and cohesion. These are the stories that first appeared in publications like the New Yorker and Harper's, and it's easy to see why. Then, there are the other stories: the one about a family deciding which of their number will be taken by monsters, the one about outwitting werewolves, the halting portrait of a vaguely dystopian marriage. These stories fall into an unfortunate subgenre of current speculative fiction in which a wacky concept and ironic execution take the place of real storytelling. They fail to please not just because they do not fulfill the subtitle's promise of thematic unity, but also because they're just not very good. Curtis would have been wise to delay publication until she had a sufficient number of first-rate stories that reflect her considerable talent. A disjointed debut.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061173097
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/3/2007
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 356,384
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Curtis's writing has appeared in The New Yorker, including its debut fiction issue, as well as in Harper's, McSweeney's, and n+1. She is a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, and her work has been selected for The O. Henry Prize Stories. She teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

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First Chapter

Twenty Grand
And Other Tales of Love and Money

Chapter One

Hungry Self

The stars were beginning above the lake, and the boats with their tiny pilot lights were entering the bay through the channel to dock for the night. Johnny, Ngoc's son, was lighting the red evening candles with half an eye on me, because he liked to keep an eye on the help, or maybe because his mother had taught him to. I had a layer of oil on my face. My apron was shiny with duck sauce, and my pockets were puffy with crumpled dollar bills. We'd had Buffet Day earlier. On Buffet Day we got a lot of families and fat people who came because the other people who came were fat and no one was too embarrassed to load up a really tall plate, and people stayed a few hours to double-eat and left bunches of ones for tips.

I was watching Johnny glide across the dark-red carpet, menus in hand, to seat someone at the last booth in the lakeside row. Like me, he was watching the boats. I was terribly in love with him, but we were separated by race and by the fact that he hated me. Johnny was nineteen, which was my age, and we had both spent every night of the summer here—I did it because I was broke and Johnny did it because Ngoc was a widow and needed him to help her run this restaurant she'd maintained after her husband's death so that Johnny could maintain it after her own. He lit the little red candle in the booth, where he'd seated a lonely and enormous woman, and nodded at me on his way to the kitchen. I went over to the table and put down some dry noodles and a stained silver teapot and turned over a white china cup and poured some tea in it, and the woman swiveledher body toward mine and gave me the smile you give a waitress if you're the kind of person who is nice to a waitress, and I saw that the woman was my ex-psychiatrist. I knocked over the cup and the tea spilled onto the table and then onto her lap.

I'm sorry, I said, I'm sorry.

I watched her face go through a set of, "If A, then B; if B, then C; A, therefore C," after which she said, Hi, how are you?, as if to say, Is everything OK, now? with an element of I am neither your mother nor your relative but I do care for you to the extent that my highly stretched human resources allow, and I said, Good, good, to mean Everything is good, your efforts were successful, and please feel happy about the energy you invested in me.

The next day was the start of Bike Week, a five-day festival during which a hundred thousand bikers would arrive and celebrate being bikers in our very small and very beautiful town. On the last night of that week, I would have fourteen tables and I would tell them their food was almost ready but that would be a lie, since I'd mismatched three tables' worth of orders and none of them would eat sooner than an hour after being sat, and they would each tip me nothing, to say You are worth nothing, or one dollar, to say You are worth crap; except for those people who were nicest and least likely to complain and whom I would therefore serve last. They would not eat for an hour and a half. These people would tip me a twenty and I would wonder at their foolishness and give the twenty to Ken the cook, who sold coke in the basement, and who'd been shipped in by Ngoc from China and housed in a rat-shack next door. He knew how to say "shitfucker" and "asslick" and had a habit of wiping his dick with his hands then not washing them after and telling me about it, charades style.

Ngoc knew about this but couldn't do much. She was old and strange-looking and dyed her hair black and wore rhinestone-studded mauve gowns that she thought added elegance to the general atmosphere of the restaurant. The restaurant was very red and very gold. Ngoc bussed tables and supervised the kitchen, and the bar, and us, and at night I watched her bending over the counter in front, adding columns of figures without a calculator. She couldn't control the cooks, but she kept them on because they were illegal and worked cheap. All of the cooks were wrinkled and small and had perms; once a month, they pitched in and took a cab downtown, where they bought hookers and sat for their perms.

Ken the cook cut five wide lines for a twenty in a boxed-goods room behind the meat rack in the basement, which is where Ngoc would find us, and Ngoc would be in an intolerant mood that night because the same bikers who came every year, a group of them, fat and bearded and staggering drunk, had stopped her in the lobby and chanted, Ngoc, Ngoc, Ngoc, give us a chink hug Ngoc, give us a chink hug, and Ngoc had had to totter on over in her heels and her Elvira dress and scream, So good to see you! So good to see you! and press herself against each one of their enormous bodies. When Ngoc found the cook and me doing lines in the basement she'd have some things to say to us in Cantonese and then some things to say to us in English, which would be that there is one kind of trash and there is another kind of trash and neither kind was trash that she wanted in her Eating Establishment.

But this shift was slow. I'd spent most of it putting purple tissue umbrellas in drinks and asking customers what they'd seen in town so far and telling . . .

Twenty Grand
And Other Tales of Love and Money
. Copyright © by Rebecca Curtis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2008

    A reviewer

    in the mist of applying to MFA programs, this collection of stories has helped shove my determination and motivation to become a new voice in writing. Becca Curtis has done just that. In Twenty Grand, her powerful grace of female characters and interesting themes throughout these stories are masterful. Hopefully her style will influence my own writing as time flies by. great collection! pick it up!

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    Posted May 20, 2012

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