AM I ALONE HERE? by Peter Orner


Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live
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A collection of literary tapas.

Novelist and short story writer Orner (Creative Writing/San Francisco State Univ.; Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, 2013, etc.) combines short, reflective essays about literature with personal memories. The pieces (some previously published) are literary hybrids, and the book becomes a series of “unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” The big names (Kafka, Chekhov, Melville, Cheever, Bellow, etc.) are well-represented, but so too are those outside of the canon—e.g., Lyonel Trouillot, Álvaro Mutis, Bohumil Hrabal and his “lightning strike of a novel,” Too Loud a Solitude. In the first piece, ostensibly about how Orner likes to read, reflect, look around, and just listen at San Francisco’s General Hospital’s cafeteria, the author transitions to Chekhov’s “tender and sorrowful” story “The Bishop,” which he admires for how the author (a doctor) lovingly employs details. He ends thinking about his dead grandmother. In a cabin in Bolinas, California, Orner thinks about his dead father and reads Breece D’J Pancake’s story “First Day of Winter,” which “gets [him] every time. The way a story about characters, nonexistent people, pushes us back to our own.” Orner confesses that John Edgar Wideman’s story “Welcome” is the “saddest story” he has ever read “by a wide margin.” Again, thinking about his father, he asks, what is the best Father’s Day novel? “Hands down The Brothers Karamazov.” But Bernard Malamud’s “My Son the Murderer” is the best story. While it takes Dostoevsky 700 pages “to get to the bottom of fathers and sons,” Malamud “can name that tune in under 8.” At 22, he accidentally fell out of a canoe but saved the book he was reading—the indelible and “generous” To the Lighthouse—and then anxiously waited for it to dry in the sun so he could finish it. Book lovers will devour these genuine, personal tales about literature and reading.

Refreshing, finely turned gems of wit and wisdom from an author who has asked his family to bury him with a “decent library.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-936787-25-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Catapult
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016


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