Synopses & Reviews
Ever since the publication of The Harmony of the World
in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America’s finest short-story writers. Each subsequent collection—Through the Safety Net, A Relative Stranger,
—was further confirmation of his mastery: his gift for capturing the immediate moment, for revealing the unexpected in the ordinary, for showing how the smallest shock can pierce the heart of an intimacy. Gryphon
brings together the best of Baxter’s previous collections with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement.
Baxter once described himself as “a Midwestern writer in a postmodern age”: at home in a terrain best known for its blandness, one that does not give up its secrets easily, whose residents don’t always talk about what’s on their mind, and where something out of the quotidian—some stress, the appearance of a stranger, or a knock on the window—may be all that’s needed to force what lies underneath to the surface and to disclose a surprising impulse, frustration, or desire. Whether friends or strangers, the characters in Baxter’s stories share a desire—sometimes muted and sometimes fierce—to break through the fragile glass of convention. In the title story, a substitute teacher walks into a new classroom, draws an outsized tree on the blackboard on a whim, and rewards her students by reading their fortunes using a Tarot deck. In each of the stories we see the delicate tension between what we want to believe and what we need to believe.
By turns compassionate, gently humorous, and haunting, Gryphon proves William Maxwell’s assertion that “nobody can touch Charles Baxter in the field that he has carved out for himself.”
"Baxter's skill with short fiction is confirmed in this stellar collection of 23 stories, seven of which are new. The title story is deservedly a classic, and other favorites, such as 'Fenstad's Mother,' have gathered resonance as well, and the new stories show Baxter working a quirky beat. In each, the acutely observed real world is rocked by the exotic or surreal. In 'Poor Devil,' the 'devils' are a self-destructive couple headed for a divorce, while, in 'Ghosts,' a stranger enters a young woman's house and tells her they are soul mates. She accuses him of being a devil, but his intentions are much less sinister than she imagines. 'Nightfall had always brought his devils out,' the narrator says in 'The Old Murderer,' a touching story about an alcoholic and an ex-con, each trying to get through the day. In 'Royal Blue,' arguably the best of the new stories, an undertow of mystery shadows a handsome young art dealer who understands that 9/11 has affected a fundamental change in his life. In Baxter's comic-melancholic world, people may be incapable of averting sadness or violence, but they survive. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"[A] career-encompassing collection.... Baxter's legacy to fiction is clear: For more than twenty-five years he's insisted that we're kidding ourselves a little whenever we call ourselves 'normal.'" Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"This is Baxter at his best: a subtle and astute observer of the human." The New York Review of Books
"Baxter shines [a] bright light on his characters, so bright that the landscape around them, in almost every story, shimmers like a mirage in extreme heat." Los Angeles Times
"With formidable skill and only a few brushstrokes of description, Baxter deftly draws us into his characters' predicaments....One of our best storytellers." San Francisco Chronicle
"Remarkable. The early stories are terrific, and the new stories are terrific. Often, in this type of retrospective, it is obvious how much a writer has matured and developed. Rarely, but as demonstrated in this collection, we're struck by the realization that the writer has always been this good." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Baxter is a genius....[Gryphon] keeps us mesmerized to the end. Baxter brings to his masterful stories a quirky slant born of the straight-faced humor of the Midwest." Jane Ciabattari, Books We Like, NPR
"This volume comprises twenty-three stories, seven of which are new and the remainder of which are among the works that have led this author to become so highly regarded by peers and readers alike. They are mostly set in Minnesota or Michigan; New York City and Alaska make appearances, but the natural pull of Charles Baxter's fiction is, and always has been, toward the Upper Midwest. His characters are replete with tentative, even desperate, happiness, measured by the sharpness of past disappointment or the blunt defeat of naive expectations. Dislocation and absurdity occupy most of his well-wrought fictional world." James Naiden, Rain Taxi
(Read the entire Rain Taxi review
Ever since the publication of his first story collection in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America’s finest short story writers. Gryphon brings together sixteen classics with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement.
From a writer whose work reminds one of how broad and deep and shining a story can be (Alice Munro) comes a selection that gathers the best from his four earlier collections as well as seven previously uncollected stories.
About the Author
Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the collections Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World. He lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.