The Whole Story and Other Stories

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What happens when you run into Death in a busy train station? (You know he's Death because when he smiles, your cell phone goes dead.) What if your lover falls in love with a tree? Should you be jealous? From the woman pursued by a band of bagpipers in full regalia to the artist who's built a seven-foot boat out of secondhand copies of The Great Gatsby, Smith's characters are offbeat, charming, sexy, and as wonderfully complex as life itself.
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The Whole Story and Other Stories

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Overview

What happens when you run into Death in a busy train station? (You know he's Death because when he smiles, your cell phone goes dead.) What if your lover falls in love with a tree? Should you be jealous? From the woman pursued by a band of bagpipers in full regalia to the artist who's built a seven-foot boat out of secondhand copies of The Great Gatsby, Smith's characters are offbeat, charming, sexy, and as wonderfully complex as life itself.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
''The Heat of the Story,'' the volume's finest, is a droll and touching tale of three women who, on a cold night, keep one another warm with stories of childhood and love. It achieves grandeur with measured effects, astutely figurative language (the women, drunk, arrive exuding ''liquid happiness'') and a refreshing lack of cataclysm or melodrama. — Mark Kamine
Publishers Weekly
Switching back to short fiction after a highly successful debut novel (Hotel World), Smith crafts 12 sharp, unsettling stories tuned to a frequency just beyond the range of reality. The collection begins with "The Universal Story," about a man who buys up used copies of The Great Gatsby for his sister; she plans to use them to build a paper boat. Engaging as it is in itself, this narrative is just the pretext for a meditation on the nature of storytelling, which Smith undertakes by shifting her focus to marginal characters and then to a meandering fly. Other, similarly inventive and whimsical conceits dominate the collection. In "May," for instance, a woman falls in love with a tree on a neighbor's property that literally becomes a rival for her husband's affection, while in "Gothic," a bookstore clerk has to deal with a series of odd and occasionally threatening customers. A frequent preoccupation is the way art and literature work on the imagination. Smith pokes cheeky fun at contemporary art in "The Shortlist Season," in which the protagonist visits a gallery and has a curiously physical reaction to what she sees ("Perhaps, I thought to myself, I could have tests for art intolerance, like patch tests"). Some of the conceits are rather airy, but the combination of Smith's startlingly inventive story lines and her ability to get into the hearts and heads of her often squirrelly characters makes her tales oddly affecting. Smith forces readers to examine their assumptions, particularly as readers and consumers of their own fictions. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A young British author self-consciously seasons stories of love and abandonment with sometimes awkward touches of the gothic, surreal, and mythic. Though an imaginative and original talent who can write as evocatively of managing a fast-food restaurant as of a tree in blossom, Smith (the prizewinning novel Hotel World, 2002) makes attempts at a Celtic sort of magic realism that often seem strained and dated. Of the twelve stories in this second collection (after Free Love, not reviewed), "May" is perhaps the most surreal as a young woman, after seeing a neighbor's tree in full bloom, falls obsessively in love with it. The apple tree in "Erosive," covered with aphids, preoccupies the narrator, who, struck by a sudden light from above, is in love with the sky, with a young woman, even with the aphids. In "The Universal Story," one of the most fully realized, Smith deftly makes connections between a fly in a bookstore window, the store's owner, and a customer traveling round the country buying up used copies of The Great Gatsby for his sister: an artist, she's planning to build a boat from the books. Dressed in a business suit, Death (in "Being Quick") mingles with the rush hour crowd on a station platform and is recognized by the homeward bound narrator, whose cell phone goes dead: her commute becomes a strangely sinister odyssey while her anxious lover waits for her. Some of the tales are set in Smith's native Scotland. Two women and a young girl (in "Paradise") share a house on the shore of Loch Ness in a story that includes not only the mythical monster but haunted graveyards that recall an armed robbery, tourists encountered on a local cruise ship, and a vandalizing sharpshooter."Scottish Love Songs" introduces Violet, a confused old woman who once visited Niagara Falls but now lives in a house haunted by "a pipe band in full regalia" playing "always the same tune. The whole house shook with it." Clever, stylish, and smooth in prose, but too cool to engage.
From the Publisher
“Ali Smith has got style, ideas and punch. Read her.” —Jeanette Winterson

“One of Britain’s major talents. . . . Startlingly accomplished.” —The Atlantic Monthly

“A joy to read.” —Sunday Times (London)

“Smith is a gifted and meticulous architect of character and voice.” —The Washington Post

“She’s street-savvy and poignant at once. . . . There’s a kind of stainless steel clarity at the center of her fiction.” —The Boston Globe

“Smith proves herself an experimental writer even your mother could love.” —Elle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780241141106
  • Publisher: BPR Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Ali Smith is the author of Hotel World, which was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize in 2001 and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2002. Her first collection of stories, Free Love, won the Saltire First Book Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award. Born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1962, Smith now lives in Cambridge, England.
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Table of Contents

The universal story 1
Gothic 13
Being quick 23
May 45
Paradise 61
Erosive 99
The book club 107
Believe me 119
Scottish love songs 129
The shortlist season 143
The heat of the story 155
The start of things 167
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