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The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy

The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy

by James Purdy, John Waters (Introduction)

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Celebrate “an authentic American genius” (Gore Vidal) in James Purdy’s first complete short story collection.


Celebrate “an authentic American genius” (Gore Vidal) in James Purdy’s first complete short story collection.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - John Leland
The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy…brings together old and new in one twisted, occasionally surreal burlesque, spanning roughly six decades and held together by that oddly formal voice that seems to belong to none of them…This is the Purdy method: dispense with externals to get at more interior sins. He dealt in myths and universals, not daily reality. Many of the earliest stories are little more than dialogues; the later ones include cracked fairy tales involving cannibals or talking cats. This "tell don't show" can make the prose feel antique or overeager, but it also creates space for Purdy's dark humor.
Publishers Weekly
Purdy’s gift for capturing the despair in people’s lives is abundantly present in this collection of 58 stories. A wife’s disdain for her husband is exemplified in her lack of confidence that he can change a refrigerator’s lightbulb, in “Man and Wife.” The doctor of “Ruthanna Elder,” who has delivered more than 2,000 babies, attributes his insomnia to “too meticulous a memory of the subsequent lives” they led, which weighed on him like “slabs from the stone quarry.” Purdy can sum up a character in a phrase—a college acquaintance seen two decades later is described as having a body “so loose and yet heavy as though the passions and anguish of man had never coursed through it.” When he’s at his best, his brief glimpses into troubled lives are painful to read. He’s less successful when he tries his hand at fables; entries like “Mud Toe the Cannibal” and “Kitty Blue” are unremarkable. Noir fans who like nothing better than to peer into the windows of broken souls but don’t need blood to enjoy the view will agree with Waters’s note in his introduction that this complete volume (“here they all are at last”) of “perfectly perverted” stories is a treasure. (July)
Jonathan Lethem
“His style is impulsive and prodding, uniquely his own, and uniquely haunting.”
Kirkus Reviews
The late (1914–2009) fiction writer, whose work sharply divided critical opinion from the start, receives his due with this vast but fast-moving collection of short stories. Dip into the book, counsels fugitive filmmaker John Waters in his introduction, and you'll find "a perfectly perverted Purdy story," one that, he adds, will yield "hilarious moral damage and beautiful decay that will certainly follow in your dreams." The description seems apt, though Purdy's themes, sometimes homoerotic and sometimes obsessive, transcend the merely sexual: Waters' word "perverted" might more closely track Purdy's gloomy, angry, mistrustful sense of the world. His characters are often argumentative, bitter, unhappy, full of malign intent. In one particularly unpleasant example, a woman awakens as if from a dream to decide that after years of married life she cannot stand her husband's name--and by extension, her husband. He repays the sentiment by hitting her "not too gently over the mouth," making her bleed and drawing a crowd. In another, a young man murders a "young uncle" for what he considers good cause and then shoots himself: "his brains and pieces of skull rushed out from under his fair curly hair onto the glass behind the pillars, onto the screen door, the blood flew like a gentle summer shower." In yet another, a less violent Chekhov pastiche, a swindle takes flight as a "whim of Fortune," ruinous for some and a boon for others. You'll either be enchanted or repelled, and Purdy seems to occupy no middle ground: Whereas Jonathan Franzen has championed him, Edmund White has professed to be "allergic" to Purdy's work. A bonus: Several of the stories are previously unpublished, some by design. A completist's dream, as well as a comprehensive overview of Purdy's themes and--yes--obsessions.
Jerome Charyn - The Daily Beast
“Like Herman Melville, his closest literary ancestor, he was unremembered when he died in 2009 at age 94, one more Ishmael, with a small coterie of followers…. Now Purdy has leaped out of his own shallow grave—four years after his death, we have The Complete Stories of James Purdy…. In his very best stories and novels Purdy has invented a poetic dreamscape where evil and naiveté collide. He is an enchanter of lost souls who delights and disturbs us with his wayward, winsome ghosts.”
Vinton Rafe McCabe - New York Journal of Books
“At last we have this edition of stories through which we can celebrate his talent. And through which newcomers can have the opportunity to come to know him and the fictional world that he inhabits…. The greatest beauty of this collection is that from first to last—from the juvenilia (which, admittedly, gives only a glimpse of what is to come) to his final tale, the brief and wry Adeline written when he was 92—James Purdy captivates. And that is more than reason enough to celebrate this bravura edition.”
Jeff Simon - Buffalo News
“The current and, no doubt, game-changing Complete Short Stories may not do for Purdy what Cheever’s Collected Stories did for him but it will surely shake things up radically…. That roiling sound you hear off in the distance is James Purdy, at long last, joining the mainstream.”
John Leland - New York Times Book Review
“Stories materialize as if from dreams… He dealt in myths and universals, not daily reality…. Purdy’s characters never question the fallen state of the world in which they find themselves or the terrible things done to or by otherwise unexceptional individuals. The author makes no claims that they deserve better, or that problems are there to be solved. Even in the more naturalistic stories, violence and sexual compulsion, gay and straight, are part of the background music. Maliciousness is just another word for manners.”
Tom Lavoie - Shelf Awareness
“His subject matter is a cross between Nathanael West (sans Hollywood) and Flannery O'Connor (sans religion) …. As a fearless iconoclast, Purdy deserves our rediscovery. The seemingly simple yet compelling prose of The Complete Short Stories belies the haunting, slightly creepy stories that live within.”
The New Yorker
“Purdy’s short stories are often brief and propelled by dialogue rich with the quirks and profanities of the American vernacular…. They also tend to convey a pervasive sense of moral compromise or emotional damage in the lives of their characters…. The thick volume gathers all of Purdy’s stories—fifty-six in all, including seven previously unpublished ones—for the first time.”
Jonathan Franzen
“He takes up where the rest of us leave off…What constitutes in extremis for most of us is the daily bread of Mr. Purdy’s world. He lets you try on desperation, and you find that it fits you better than you expected. His most bizarre freaks don’t feel freakish. They feel, peculiarly, like me.”
Dorothy Parker
“A writer of the highest rank in originality, insight and power.”
Langston Hughes
“James Purdy’s characters and situations linger in the memory.”
John Waters
“Think of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy as a ten-pound box of poison chocolates you keep beside your bed—fairy tales for your twisted mind that should never be described to the innocent. Randomly select a perfectly perverted Purdy story and read it before you go to sleep and savor the hilarious moral damage and beautiful decay that will certainly follow in your dreams.”
Tennessee Williams
“He may shock and offend some partisans of the well-trodden paths in fiction, but he will surely enchant the reader who values a new expression of new feeling and experience in our very new time.”

Product Details

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.90(d)

Meet the Author

James Purdy, born in 1914, is undergoing a major literary renaissance. The author of Malcolm and now The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy, he lived in New York until his death in 2009.

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