From the highly acclaimed author of Edisto and The Interrogative Mood, Padgett Powell's new collection of stories, Cries for Help, Various Stories, follows his mentor Donald Barthelme's advice that "wacky mode must "break their hearts". The surrealistic and comical terrain of most of the 44 stories here is grounded by a real preoccupation with longing, fear, work, loneliness, and cultural nostalgia. These universal concerns are given exhilarating life by way of Powell's "wit, his...dazzling turns of phrase" (Scott Spencer).
In "Joplin and Dickens", the musician and writer meet as emotionally needy students in an American grade school; in "Change of Life", a father ponders whether getting new clothes for the family or the patriotic purchase of a "new Government Cookie Flyer" would be more meaningful. In "The Imperative Mood", giving orders to others "Fall back and regroup" leads less to power than to rumination.
Padgett Powell's language is both lofty and low-down, his tone cranky and heartfelt, exuberant and inconsolable. His characters rebel against convention and ambition, hoping to maintain their very sanity by doing so. Even the most hilarious or fantastical stories in Cries for Help, Various ring gloriously, poignantly, true.
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Love to hear Mr. Powell read!