Saturday, February 27, 2010

ZZ Packer

I had never heard of Z.Z. Packer when I first read her short story Brownies, but  after reading this story, I read her collection and then several of her non-fiction articles, and now she is one of my favorites. Brownies is one of those stories you cannot read only once. You must read through a second time powered by a disturbing sense of awe. You must read it a third time to figure out how the hell she produced such a masterpiece. And you read it a fourth time a year later just to relive that emotional wallop yet again.

Here is the first line of Brownies:
"By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909."

And thus the hilarious, poignant and startling story about a troop of Brownies as summer camp begins.

But this collection isn't one to stick to one subject or point of view. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere roams emotional terrain far and wide.

"Opportunities," my father says after I bail him out jail. He's banging words into the dash as if trying to get them through my thick skull, "You've got to invest your money if you want opportunities" writes Packer in Ant of the Self, which was the second story she had published in The New Yorker, and is written from the point of view of a young boy who gets talked into going to the Million Man March by his delinquent father.

The title story is told from the point of view of an African American freshman during her first year at an Ivy League campus and another powerful story, Speaking in Tongues, is told from the point of view of a 14-year old Alabama runaway on the streets of Atlanta.  In just a few pages Packer renders worlds taunt with the emotional resonance that novelists strive to achieve in hundreds of pages. The variety leaves you breathless, never quite knowing what this writer is going to throw at you next.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is one of those books that you won't loan out because someday you will reach for it again, and it would be too great a loss if it wasn't there.

Not many writers can claim The New Yorker among their first publication, but before Z.Z. Packer's debut collection of short stories was first published she had not only appeared in the New Yorker (twice), but also Harper's, Ploughshares, Zoetrope and the 'late' great Story. Rumor has it Z.Z. is currently working on a novel about the Buffalo Soldiers. We'll have to ask her all about it this summer.

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I have enjoyed putting together our little bookstore up in Squaw Valley over the past four years. We love our bookstore and it has been your support that makes it all possible, so Thank You!

I have received many requests for an online SVCW Bookstore. Some who miss us when they are away, and others who are just tired of lugging all those hardcovers around on airplanes. There are also those writers who are honest about being broke and needing to purchase books at Amazon's discounted prices. As fellow writers, we understand your pain!

For these reasons I thought it would be fun to try our hand at a SVCW Books and Authors blog. I will track down our authors and past participants and post their books, news, reviews and information and link our SVCW books to Amazon. Ten percent of every book purchased through our blog will help support the bookstore. I am looking forward to building an online archive of the outstanding collection of books represented by authors who frequent the Community of Writers.

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