Synopses & Reviews
A new book of stories — some very short, some slightly longer — exploring the human appetite for rapture and trust.
Call it microfiction or minifiction, flash fiction or short shorts. Whatever the label, here are fifty little masterpieces from Stuart Dybek, sparkling with his fervent intensity and sly wit. “I wanted to tell you a story without telling a story,” says one narrator, and some of the other characters are even more enigmatic. Whether about a simple transaction, a brave inquiry, a difficult negotiation, or shared bliss, whether wholly realistic or clearly magical, each story in Ecstatic Cahoots reveals what Dybek finds entrancing in our need for ecstatic self-transcendence on the one hand and the need for trust between lovers, friends, family, and even strangers on the other.
Puzzlement, anguish, and conspiratorial high spirits mark the marvelous encounters here, yet sometimes they “seem meant to remain ghostly, as faint and fleeting as the reflection of a face on the window of a bus.” The brilliant concision of the first story is worth savoring in full, and attentive readers will enjoy the echoes of its two questions heard elsewhere in this effervescent book:
“You're going to leave your watch on?”
“You're leaving on your cross?”
"A roller coaster of realist and fantastical scenes, slice-of-life character sketches, and page-long fables, Dybek's collection of flash fiction jostles from story to story like a streamlined zephyr. Much of the book feels like snippets of conversation, or fights overheard through an apartment wall. The daughter with her mother's bellowing voice who sings only in dreams; the bumbling supervisor lured into paying for a night with his employee; the woman who wants to shave her boyfriend: 'Sounds nice,' he said, rather than tell her there was no way in hell she was getting near him with a razor.' Dybek switches easily from humor to sadness, from the sensual to the surreal. A young man must leave his girlfriend to find his way home through a blizzard in 'Córdoba.' In 'Ant,' a lovely day for two lovers is pulled apart by an ant that manages to cart the man away after he remembers a story read to him in childhood by his uncle. In 'A Confluence of Doors,' a castaway on the ocean comes upon a veritable island of locked, knocking doors. In 'Ice,' a couple brave out onto a frozen pond, the location of a past wedding party where the bride and groom drowned, their ghostly figures still visible under the sheet of ice. Dybek uses all his creative muscle in these brief stories, which are both elusive and precise. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"[Dybek's] two new collections establish him as not only our most relevant writer, but maybe our best....Each season, the Powers That Be take a book, any book, possibly at random and proclaim it the Biggie, The Obligatory Best Seller. Could it be Ecstatic Cahoots....Here's hoping." Darin Strauss, New York Times Book Review
"The excellent Stuart Dybek continues to challenge and dazzle. These modern-day palm-of-the-hand stories will do much to keep this exciting form alive." Amy Hempel, author of The Dog of the Marriage
"Dybek's classic story 'Hot Ice' changed my life when I read it back in 1983. He somehow manages to conjure up beautiful, detailed imitations of real America, and then infuse them with so much surreal truth that they read like myths or fairy tales. Like the Chicago he often writes about, his work is full of genuine sentiment, and edge, and beauty. One of the most soulful writers in American, and a national treasure." George Saunders, Oprah Magazine
"Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern confirm Dybek as a virtuoso of the short story — a nimble, compassionate writer who uses precise, lucid, original descriptions. He shows us all we need to know and nothing more." The San Francisco Chronicle
"Masterful....Like Proust, Dybek has a deserved reputation as a superb cartographer of memory." The Los Angeles Review of Books
"A superlative collection....[Dybek's] stories are sharply self-aware, full of references, and yet they never feel contrived. Rather, they evoke a wistful yearning, in which the act of telling can do only so much." Los Angeles Times
"Dream and memory, humor and pathos, song and silence: At his best Dybek combines these disparate elements in a shimmering web." Newsday
"[Stuart Dybek is] a magician comparable to Eudora Welty and Joy Williams." Chicago Tribune
In this remarkable collection of bite-size stories, Stuart Dybek, one of our most prodigious writers, explores the human appetite for rapture and for trust. With fervent intensity and sly wit, he gives each tale his signature mix of characters — some almost ghostly, others vividly real — who live in worlds tinged with surreal potential. There are crazed nuns hijacking streetcars, eerie adventures across frozen ponds, and a boy who is visited by a miniature bride and groom every night in his uncles doomsday compound. Whether they are about a simple transaction, a brave inquiry, a difficult negotiation, or shared bliss, the stories in Ecstatic Cahoots
target the friction between our need for ecstatic self-transcendence and our passionate longing for trust between lovers, friends, family, and even strangers.
Call it micro-fiction or mini-fiction, flash fiction or short shorts. Whatever the label, the marvelous encounters here are marked by puzzlement, anguish, and conspiratorial high spirits. In this thrilling collection, Stuart Dybek has once again re-envisioned the possibilities of fiction, creating myriad human situations that fold endlessly upon each other, his crackling prose drawing out the strange, the intimate, and the mysterious elements in each.
About the Author
Stuart Dybek is the author of four other books of fiction, including Paper Lantern, published simultaneously with this volume, as well as two collections of poetry. The recipient of many prizes and awards — including the PEN/Malamud Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writers Award, and four O. Henry Awards—he is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Florida Keys.