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| Underground Women
Published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2019 (ISBN 9780299323943).
This short story collection contains the contents of The Dogeater (1987) with the addition of three new stories and an afterward by the author.
“I’ve loved Jesse Lee Kercheval’s work for decades and am over the moon to find her first book reissued as Underground Women. It is so very timely: it is mordant, smart, and simmering under the surface with feminine rage.”
“Kercheval…shows her virtuosity in this collection of 11 short stories. ‛Carpathia,’ a gem, contrasts a newlywed’s tragic destiny to the kind of doom suffered by passengers on the Titanic. In the title story, a young female American photographer in Paris becomes the charge of her French hotel proprietress, their subsequent exploits playing out like a French noir movie. ‛Civil Service,’ a hilarious depiction of government bureaucracy, follows an administrative trainee’s unlikely rise to power. In ‛A Clean House,’ a 52-year-old osteoporosis-ridden woman’s life is transformed when a rather bizarre agency-sent aide eases her passage to death. ‛The History of the Church in America’ reveals the machinations behind starting a new religious sect, from birth to implosion, replete with visions and holy messengers. ‛The Dogeater’ brilliantly satirizes the assimilation of indigenous cultures, with the caveat that some traditions will never go away. With powerfully evocative settings created with economy, these stories shine with authenticity for their insight into human foibles and vulnerability.”
| My Life as a Silent Movie
Published by the Indiana University Press in 2013 (ISBN 9780253010247).
The novel My Life as a Silent Movie is the product of the obsession with silent films which also produced Kercheval’s poetry collection Cinema Muto.
“[Kercheval] has painted a near-perfect portrait of grief and of the hope that can arise out of the ashes of despair. The book follows Emma, a woman in her early 40s who loses her husband and daughter in a terrible car accident and subsequently tries to rebuild her life. After learning she was adopted, Emma travels from New York to Paris and Moscow to find out about her real parents (a beguiling White Russian movie star and a passionate French communist) and along the way encounters unexpected surprises.… [T]he painful yet exciting journey Emma takes is akin to a postmodern adult Alice in Wonderland. VERDICT Fans of literary fiction will devour this tale of heartbreak, family, and politics. At times, the book can feel a bit melodramatic and overly dark, but the haunting quality of Kercheval’s writing makes this easy to forgive. This is a story not to be missed.”
“Jesse Lee Kercheval’s precise and sharp new novel My Life as a Silent Movie shows us what happens in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy. Kercheval’s prose is as clear as a silent film star’s face, and the novel’s twists and turns are wonderfully unexpected. Whether in Paris or in Indiana, readers will swoon.”
Other reviews are here.
You can learn about Ivan Mosjoukine’s life here. A list of his films can be found here.
You can order My Life as a Silent Movie here.
Winner of the Ruthanne Wiley Memorial Novella Contest, selected by Josip Novakovich, published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2010 (ISBN 9781880834862).
Brazil is a quintessential American road trip. Paulo, a 19 year old bell boy in a Miami Beach hotel, and Claudia, a wealthy Hungarian refugee, take off on a night drive that turns into a cross-country journey, a sleep-deprived search for the real America and for missing family, a fast-moving car trip into her past and toward their future.
“Brazil reminds me of why I started reading in the first place, to be enchanted, to be swept up and carried away from my world and dropped into a world at once more vivid and incandescent. The prose is luminous and compassionate, the characters are riveting and heroic, the themes complex and resonant, and the pace is relentless. This is not a book you can put down before it’s finished with you. You won’t soon forget Paulo and Claudia as they rocket across the country into the heartland, searching for love, family, and a home in the world.”
“What sleight-of-hand have we here—a novella that’s as rich as a book three times its length while as seamless as a sonnet? Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Brazil is a glorious road trip into Florida’s heart of darkness, where damned near anything is possible, and points beyond. No one in this book has ever been told not to give rides to strangers. For that, this reader is grateful.”
Ordering information can be found here.
| The Alice Stories
Published in 2007 by the University of Nebraska Press (ISBN 9780803211353).
Wisconsin is not where Alice, a girl raised in Florida, meant to end up. But when she falls in love with Anders Dahl, the son of Norwegian farmers born for generations in the same stone farmhouse, she realizes that to love Anders is to settle into a life in Wisconsin in the small house they buy before their daughter, Maude, is born. Together, Alice and Anders move forward into a life of family, friends, and the occasional troubled student until they face their biggest challenge.
Winner of the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Jesse Lee Kercheval’s The Alice Stories tells the tale of a family: the pain of loss and the importance of the love of friends in the midst of turmoil. As timely as the news, yet informed by rich humor and a deep understanding of human character, the interlinked Alice Stories form a luminous tale of family life.
“By turns hilarious and devastating, The Alice Stories form a tender and poetic chronicle of one woman’s journey through time, love, motherhood, and Wisconsin. It is a marvelous example of how connected stories can, even more effectively than a novel, evoke a life in all its ranging, episodic, and emotional complexity.”
More reviews can be found here. The Alice Stories can be purchased here.
The hardcover edition was published by Faber and Faber in 1993 (top picture, ISBN 057119821X). A trade paperback with new afterword by the author was published in 2003 by the University of Wisconsin Press (middle, ISBN 0299187349). Also, a German translation was published by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag in 1997 as Der Zaubergarten (bottom, ISBN 3453116860).
Ginny Gillespie is a young widow who has fled Florida with her husband’s ashes in her suitcase. Roland Keppi is a half-Alsatian, half-German carnival worker in search of a vision. They meet in Paris in 1929 and fall in love under a cloud of sparrows, but are soon separated when Roland is deported. Moving back and forth between Ginny and Roland, past and present, The Museum of Happiness follows the paths that bring them together in Paris, and the journeys that reunite them in a town where happiness has a shrine of its own.
Along the way, we meet an eccentric array of characters whose fates are all somehow connected to those of Ginny and Roland: Roland’s grandmother Odile, a visionary like him whose final revenge on their superstitious hometown is forgiveness; Ginny’s landlady, the indomitable Madame Desnos, who finds herself evicted from her own hotel; Ginny’s mother, a doctor whose religion has led her away from humanity; and a crew of filmmakers out to document the entire world.
Starting with Roland’s birth just before World War I and ending with the invention of television, The Museum of Happiness ranges from small-town Florida to a bizarre German detention camp, from the Parisian underworld to a place in the south of France where hand-made lace is the only industry. Exploring the conflicts between nationality and identity, family and freedom, fate and choice, The Museum of Happiness is a romantic and compelling novel with a gloriously happy ending.
Reviews can be found here, and The Museum of Happiness can be purchased here. Der Zaubergarten can be purchased here.
| The Dogeater
Winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award in Short Fiction, this collection of eight short stories was published by the University of Missouri Press in 1987 (ISBN 0826206328).
The stories included in the collection are “Underground Women,” “Willy,” “A Clean House,” “Tertiary Care,” “La Mort au Moyen Age,” “The History of the Church in America,” “A History of Indiana,” and the title story “The Dogeater,” about an elderly Igorrote man, living in New Orleans, who was originally brought to the United States as part of an exhibit for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
“Underground Women,” the first story in the collection, became the nucleus for the novel The Museum of Happiness. It was also the basis of Paula Froehle’s 2002 film.
Reviews can be found here. All the stories in The Dogeater are now available in Underground Women (2019).