Howland’s sense of humor illuminates every page, and even her sharpest barbs glint with wisdom and humanity…. the rightful (after)life that awaits her work is that she be recognized as a Chicago writer of near-universal delight.
Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune Notable Books of 2019
This achingly beautiful book throbs with life, compassion, warmth, and humor.
―Kirkus, starred review
A compassionate, trenchant, and hilarious ethnographer of eccentricities and dysfunctions, Howland now takes her place in Chicago’s literary pantheon along with her mentor Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Barry Gifford, Stuart Dybek, Joseph Epstein, and Peter Orner
―Donna Seaman,Booklist, starred review
Wherever you position Bette Howland’s absence, the vacancy is glaringshe has the kind of large presence on the page that reconfigures the literary history of its moment.
That Bette Howland produced any books at all is a testament to her determination, for until she won the MacArthur she lived nearly always at or below the poverty line…. Yet Howland refused to abandon her dreams of a writing life. “She typed more than a hundred words a minute,” her son recalled, “firing her Selectric day and night through my childhood like a machine gun.” Given such circumstances, one might assume that Howland’s writing would present a kind of literature of grievance, but one would be wrong. The energy in her fiction comes instead from a ferocious sense of engagement…. A stubborn avidity crowds out despair.”
―Donna Rifkind, Wall Street Journal
Loving, lacerating sketches… With her flexible stance toward reality, her eye for the amusing, curious, minutiae of existence, and her tonal range, Howland recalls the short-story writer Lucia Berlin.
―Abigail Deutsch, Harper's
A Public Space might be responsible for the best lost-now-found title of 2019 with Chicago-born author Bette Howland’s dry but empathetic brand of fiction. Just like Eve Babitz and Lucia Berlin before her, the Guggenheim and MacArthur “genius” fellowship-winning Howland is now available for a new generation to discover. Jason Diamond, InsideHook
An insanely sane mix of the hard-to-fight city in the ’70s and the accidental poetry of families stumbling through time.
In winding stories, Howland reflects on racism, crime, family, and aging in a segregated Chicago…. observing the kind of down-and-out, working-class people one might call “characters.”Laura Adamczyk, AV Club
The recent celebration of fellow forgotten female artists, the short story writer Lucia Berlin, championed by Lydia Davis, or the painter Himla af Klint, showcased at the Guggenheim, reminds us how necessary it is to restore these visionaries, to help reshape our collective artistic history…. Expanding the canon to make room for Howland enhances our reading of the literature she’s in conversation with. This includes, notably, the stories of working-class America by her contemporary Raymond Carver.
Jenessa Abrams, Guernica
Howland creates stark and strange works of genius, portraying the complexities of family relationships as beautifully as she portrays her narrators’ insecurities, judgments, and anxieties…. This is a collection to savor, and Howland is an author to celebrate.Publishers Weekly, starred review
If there’s a Howland bandwagon (and there should be), hold me a seat, or I’ll stand.
The stories of Bette Howland return to you like friends met once in a dreamstrange, familiar, roughing up the texture of your days. These are stories that defy classification, but seem as fresh and vital as though they were written last week. The revival of Howland’s work is one of the best things to have happened in recent memory.Madeleine Watts, McNally Jackson
Bette Howland hit me like a meteor. She writes with the deft narrative voice of Grace Paley and Eudora Welty's fidelity of place, yet her work fell out of print. This collection brings her back, and we’re all lucky.Andrew Kay, East City Bookshop
“The rediscovery of Bette Howland as a major American writer not only feels just and right, it was, in retrospect, inevitable. A voice this unique simply can’t be forgotten or ignored forever. Her words, though in many cases decades old, remain refreshing and vital. Her concerns are our concerns. In many ways she came to us when we needed her most.”Jeff Martin, Magic City Books
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is a book to be savored... Howland’s characters illuminate a soulful portrait of 1970s Chicago that, thanks to its observations on race, crime, and gentrification, could just as easily depict America today.Jewish Book Council
Bette Howland’s project feels less about the wants and needs of the individual and more about the places and the systems and the mechanisms through which the wants and needs of certain types of individuals are misplaced, distorted, or ignored… lives that perhaps the myopic mechanisms of fiction-writing have not often worked hard enough to make space for, lives that we’ve not listened to before.Lynn Steger Strong, Epiphany
Like Bellow, Howland was a bard of Chicago, even at its most alarming…. A voice at once gritty and lyrical, despairing even while tenaciously holding onto hope. That Howland’s work is back with us again shows that hope won out, after all. Diane Cole, Jewish Week
Howland’s powers of observation are like military-grade weapons.University of Chicago Magazine
The writing is extraordinary: both dreamlike and hyperreal, experimental and classical, the product of a prodigious mythopoetic imagination and a visceral attention to the facts of downtroddenness and heartbreak.Alicia Chesser Atkin, the Tulsa Voice
A remarkable literary voice rediscovered.
Many readers have probably never heard of Howland. This selection of her work, the debut title from literary magazine A Public Space's new book imprint, aims to change that. Born in Chicago in 1937, Howland was raised in a working-class Jewish home on the city's west side and went on to publish three books—W-3 (1974), Blue in Chicago (1978), and Things Come and Go (1983)—and become a protégée, muse, and sometime lover of Saul Bellow. Along the way, Howland married, had two sons, divorced, and, in 1968, spent time in an asylum, being treated for depression following a suicide attempt, prompting Bellow, in one of his many letters to her, to urge his friend "to write, in bed, and make use of your unhappiness." Having apparently followed that advice, she found acclaim, winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1978 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. After the latter honor, however, Howland mostly stopped publishing and faded into literary obscurity only to be rediscovered shortly before she died in 2017. This collection, which blends memoir, essays, and fiction, is intended to introduce Howland's work to a new generation of readers, and it is an introduction well worth making. Her words and observations shine like buried treasure, each story a glinty, multifaceted gem that, despite the passage of time, has lost none of its luster or clarity. In stories like "Blue in Chicago," about a University of Chicago graduate student who spends a day traveling from gritty, crime-ridden Hyde Park on the South Side to a family wedding in the city's safer, more affluent North Shore suburbs, and "Public Facilities," about the workers and patrons who populate a branch of the Chicago Public Library, Howland captures not only a particular locale and era—dreary, decrepit, dilapidated, yet lovably familiar—but also the connections between members of families into which we are born and those we find in unlikely, even inhospitable places. In works like "Aronesti," the first story she ever published, "To the Country," "German Lessons," and the collection's title story, essentially an extended note to a dying friend, Howland takes us further afield, turning her acute eye to areas outside her hometown. Throughout, she proves herself to be a stellar observer of worlds external and internal and a master of description.
This achingly beautiful book throbs with life, compassion, warmth, and humor; hums with an undercurrent of existential despair; and creeps into your soul like the slushy-gray-yellow light of a wintry Chicago morning.