In her debut Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. The title story describes a Yale freshman's alienation as a black, motherless loner trying to come to terms with her radically ...
In her debut Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. The title story describes a Yale freshman's alienation as a black, motherless loner trying to come to terms with her radically unfamiliar surroundings. 'Speaking in Tongues' follows 14-year-old church girl Tia as she runs away to the big city in search of the mother who abandoned her, and 'The Ant of the Self' features a bright young man's last-ditch attempt to understand his loser father on a trip to the Million Man March in Washington DC. Teeming with life, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a collection that explores what it is to be human. Never neatly resolved, these provocative and unforgettable stories resonate with honesty and wry humour and introduce us to a major new talent. ZZ Packer is the real thing.
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The stories in ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere brims with rich, wonderful prose and incredibly interesting characters. There's a bleakness to Packer's stories in a Flannery O'Connor-ish sort of way. Characters sometimes find themselves in depressing situations with endings that leave it open to the question: What happens next? That's the only problem I found with many of the stories in this collection. They're all good but feel as if they're missing something. I'm not quite sure what the "something" is but with many of the stories, Speaking In Tongues or Geese for example, it feels like something more should be there. Something meatier, if you will. Not to say that all the stories are like that. Brownies is by far the standout here with one of the best surprise twists I've encountered in a short story in a long time. I also enjoyed The Ant of the Self. Even though the main character allows his father to walk all over him, if you read carefully you can understand why. This is an excellent collection of contemporary black fiction by an immensely talented writer. Packer eschews the girlfriend/black-men-are-no-good mentality of a lot of comtemporary black writers like McMillan and shies away from profound and cerebral writing like Walker or Morrison. Packer's tell-it-like-it-is writing skills are admirable yet sometimes come across as diamonds in the rough. I anxiously look forwards to her first full length novel. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere along with Parks' Getting Mother's Body are two shining examples of new comtemporary black fiction which makes me excited about the future of black writing and has motivated me to get some of my own black fiction out there as well.
Publishers Weekly, 2002-12-16 The clear-voiced humanity of Packer's characters, mostly black teenage girls, resonates unforgettably through the eight stories of this accomplished debut collection. Several tales are set in black communities in the South and explore the identity crises of God-fearing, economically disenfranchised teens and young women. In the riveting "Speaking in Tongues," 14-year-old "church girl" Tia runs away from her overly strict aunt in rural Georgia in search of the mother she hasn't seen in years. She makes it to Atlanta, where, in her long ruffled skirt and obvious desperation, she seems an easy target for a smooth-talking pimp. The title story explores a Yale freshman's wrenching alienation as a black student who, in trying to cope with her new, radically unfamiliar surroundings and the death of her mother, isolates herself completely until another misfit, a white student, comes into her orbit. Other stories feature a young man's last-ditch effort to understand his unreliable father on a trip to the Million Man March and a young woman who sets off for Tokyo to make "a pile of money" and finds herself destitute, living in a house full of other unemployed gaijin. These stories never end neatly or easily. Packer knows how to keep the tone provocative and tense at the close of each tale, doing justice to the complexity and dignity of the characters and their difficult choices. (Mar. 10) Forecast: Packer's stories have been published in Harper's and Story, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2000. This collection has been much anticipated since she was featured in the New Yorker's Debut Fiction Issue of 2000. BOMC, QPB, Insight Out, Black Expressions, and InBook alternate selection; author tour.
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