Thursday, July 16, 2009

Antonya Nelson

Only ten days away, that Napa Conference. Whooeee! I'm so ready!

We have a great group of faculty again, both fiction (Robert Boswell, Peter Ho Davies, Antonya Nelson, ZZ Packer) and poetry (Elizabeth Alexander,Carl Dennis, Jane Hirschfield, David St John) and I've been treating myself to reading their work.

Toni Nelson..well, I've been a fan since stumbling across her stories in the New Yorker way long ago. Her stories have a taint of nightmare about them, those oh-so-real nightmares: a dead cat in the swimming pool just before the family moves out, or a woman sharing an apartment for one month with a stranger, a woman undergoing radical elective cosmetic surgery and who appears for a good part of the story swathed in bandages. (Both of these stories appeared in the New Yorker and are in her latest collection, "Nothing Right," from Bloomsbury). Yet her work is firmly rooted in perceived experience, in our realities. Nelson has an astute understanding of the our emotional drives; she has a way of putting her characters in a heightened state of internal conflict, catching them at the pivot points, when their emotional stews are all stirred up. She understands that little bit of outlaw in all of us and lets it out; her people are always in a twist, whether they know it or not.

She also writes some bang-up sentences.

So, using a method running around Facebook; I've opened "Nothing Right" to page 56. Here is a passage beginning with the third sentence on the page:

"Abby investigated, the ample evident of plenty behind every door she tentatively tapped upon and then opened: the closet full of Christmas gifts that Santa would bring to the little children, the linen cupboard, currently depleted as sheets and towels had been distributed throughout the house, and in each of the five children's bedrooms the same-yet-different clutter, the way all of them had sprung open their luggage and left their intimate aricles everywhere--jewelry, pajamas, makeup, pharmaceuticals. The last, largest bedroom belonged to the patriarch; it alone was orderly, chilly as a tomb. On the mantel a clock ticked, and the air smelled of soot from the fireplace, of camphor and dust and the cool steam of a humidifier. A bathrobe hung from each of the footboard posts, two ghosts, and a large wooden cross was propped menacingly in a corner. In the top drawer of the dresser Abby found a stack of mint-fresh twenty-dollar bills--stocking stuffers, she wagered, slipping one in her packet. She'd taken less obvious things from the other rooms, pills and an earring and a pair of pantyhose, but from the genreation that occupied this room she wanted nothing but cash."
---from the story OBO by Antonya Nelson in "Nothing Right."

If you're in the neighborhood the last week of July, you'll have a chance to hear Toni Nelson read at the Robert Mondavi Winery, Thursday, July 29th. See Calendar of Readings and Lectures for more info on all events open to the public during the Napa Valley Writers Conference.


  1. Lakin, I love the way you review books. Interesting that I just bought and am reading Nelson's Nothing Right. Your comments are spot on.

  2. Hate to miss her!

  3. Jane....thanks for that!
    So glad you enjoy "Nothing Right." Have you read any of her other collections or novels?

  4. I have only read what of hers appears in the New Yorker. I'm always more drawn to short stories than novels.


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