Although family or the desire for family is frequently the overt subject, secrets and solitude lie at the heart of these 11 stories, of which several have appeared in the New Yorker. Nelson (Some Fun, 2006, etc.) tends to front-load her crises. Not only is Emily, the heroine of "Party of One," dying of cancer when she agrees to meet her sister Mona's lover, she also knows-although Mona doesn't know she knows-about Mona's previous affair with Emily's husband. Despite the potential for melodrama, Emily's encounter with Mona's lover evolves into a painful education. In the title story, another less-than-heroic heroine lives with her 15-year-old problem son while her ex-husband gets the son she favors, but when the troubled boy's girlfriend has a baby, family relationships clarify into something resembling redemption. In "OBO," a young grad student weasels her way into spending Christmas with her professor's family. A con artist, she's also heartbreakingly, cluelessly infatuated with the professor's distracted wife. A similar loser in "Or Else" pretends to himself as much as to his date that a vacation house belongs to his family. The actual owners treated him with generosity until he betrayed them one time too many. In "Shauntrelle," a woman who has destroyed her marriage describes her "season of uncertain and drifting identity," summing up many of these characters' predicaments. The liberal family of "We and They" adopts two black children with unintended, depressingly comic consequences. The brilliant, obese scientist in "People, People" has the unerring ability to tell people truths they don't want to know. The settings are Western and middle-middle class-Sarah Palin country-but thecharacters defy stereotype. In one of the loveliest stories, "Kansas," characters who assume disaster when a baby in the family goes missing with her teenage aunt find themselves almost disappointed by the benign ending. Despite an occasional slip into glib slice-of-life, Nelson is at her best creating densely packed, almost novel-like family mini-sagas.
“In this powerful collection of 11 short stories, Nelson’s brilliantly constructed characters negotiate love, family, home and truth. Nelson consistently pays exquisite attention to detail, resulting in rich, vivid characters and settings…Nelson writes with wonderful grace and skill, each word carefully chosen, each passage carefully constructed.
This beautiful collection is another remarkable accomplishment for a writer often hailed as one of our most talented storytellers.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“This beautiful collection is another remarkable accomplishment for a writer often hailed as one of our most talented storytellers.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Those wondering whether the spirit of bohemian anarchy endures in today's hunkered-down Red America need look only as far as the marvelously reliable Wichita, Kansas, native Antonya Nelson's latest story collection, Nothing Right…Nelson delivers convincing portraits11 of them hereof folk who are alarmingly drinking-positive, more than a little familiar with illicit drugs, and all too conversant in the language of infidelity…Sordid, cynical, and supremely romantic tales.” Elle Magazine
“Stellar… never has anxiety been made as entertaining as it is here. Nelson deploys a quirky, far-reaching humor and resonant detail to describe both the quiet and not-so-quiet implosions of midwestern families as they attempt to cope with contemporary life…. Nelson is in complete command of her material here, infusing her stories with just the right shades of poignancy, humor, and heartbreak.” Booklist (starred review)
“Nelson is at her best creating densely packed, almost novel-like family mini-sagas.” Kirkus Reviews
“Delightfully messy…Nelson gives readers plenty to ponder as her frequently baffled characters struggle to make sense of the circumstances in which they find themselves…Readers who relish conflict will burn through the pages as the disasters pile up, while those who appreciate well-rounded characters will be impressed with the variety of responses to said disasters, which reveal just how strong, flexible, and adaptable human beings can be under pressure. This weary hymn to coping with life's cruelties is a tour de force.” Library Journal
“Nelson never chafes against the limitations of her chosen form, the realistic well-made story. It's the ideal medium for a writer who isn't afraid to remind us of the familiar, who values insight over epiphany.” New York Times
“I don't know how I missed the extensively published and acclaimed writer Antonya Nelson, but I'm glad my first encounter was this collection of short stories. They are funny in a dark, subterranean way, gracefully told, and populated by characters you wouldn't want to know but already know intimately… These difficult characters… may seem impossible to like, but because of Nelson's fluid skill and insight, you end up caring about them all.” Bust
“You have only to read Antonya Nelson's new story collection, Nothing Right, to appreciate her talent…. Nelson, unlike so many writers today, is not serving up magic realism in her stories. Her magic, in fact, is their powerful realism: deeply understood, beautifully expressed.” Hartford Courant
“Nelson never chafes against the limitations of her chosen form, the realistic well-made story. It's the ideal medium for a writer who isn't afraid to remind us of the familiar, who values insight over epiphany. Nor is Nelson particularly interested in the way the world at large shapes our private lives. These stories could take place at just about any time in the last 30 years – after the sexual revolution diminished, without destroying, the scandal of adultery and the tragedy of divorce. Indeed, it comes as a surprise when, in ‘Shauntrelle,' Nelson alludes to ‘collateral damage,' and a world that contains Iraq and Afghanistan heaves into view. The wars that concern Nelson's characters are fought much closer to home.” New York Times Book Review
“Antonya Nelson's Nothing Right [targets] the romantic poseurs in all of us.” Vogue