A LESSON IN MANNERS: Winner of the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award
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About the book
The ten stories in this haunting and hilarious collection offer a how-to manual for dealing with love, lies, and loneliness. Sam Wesson, an up-and-coming country-western singer, plots to get pregnant without her boyfriend’s consent, while Dacey, already pregnant, confronts her cheating husband over her secret checking account. Andrea rescues a stray dog to avoid facing her complicated human relationships. Sarah, an exotic dancer, longs for employment at a religious theme park, and Amelia dreams of creating impossible bonsai. Whether facing life-threatening illness or life-threatening loss, these characters scheme in humble, funny, sympathetic, and outrageous ways to find an etiquette that will deliver them from disappointment and shield them from crushing grief.
From the reviews:
Urban takes readers on an amazing journey in this exceptional collection of short stories. She travels from a nameless hospital in the title story, where a young woman is trying to understand how her once perfectly healthy younger sister could be slowly dying of a tumor, to a Tennessee bar, where an up-and-coming country western singer yearns to make a baby with her unsuspecting boyfriend (“The Memoirs of Sam Wesson”), to an Evanston, Ill., center for healing, where an emotionally damaged employee is on the cusp of recovering from the death of her beloved adopted sister (“Planet Joy”). The author has an uncanny ability to explore relationships, love, and loss in a fresh and original way. In “Trying to Find a Corndog in Tompkins County,” an Arkansas woman, pregnant with her first child, contemplates fleeing the husband who raped her in order to claim the future she was meant to have. In “Welcome to the Holy Land,” an exotic dancer seeks redemption in a Tampa religious theme park, having fallen in love with the actor who plays Jesus in one of the exhibits. These are powerful stories told by a strong voice and written with vivid precision, leaving readers wondering what happens to the characters after their stories end.
—Publisher’s Weekly starred review
The collection . . . is lovely from beginning to end. While the pining for change links her stories, Urban employs different tones and forms to create a collection that offers readers variation on the through line. Her characters, in even the briefest of the stories, are fully realized, their hopes, fears, and disappointments vital on the page.
Urban leavens the heartbreak of her stories with flashes of humor, even when characters are at their lowest point. . . A Lesson in Manners is the work of a sure-handed storyteller with insight into the heart and its deepest desires.
—Rob Cline, Cedar Rapids Gazette
Judge Jacob M. Appel, author of The Biology of Luck, Scouting for the Reaper, The Magic Laundry, and The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, wrote of the collection:
“Great” storytellers are as striking as they are rare, and what usually sets one apart is a voice that announces the author as an important, distinctive presence on the literary scene. Only a few pages into A Lesson in Manners, I realized Misty Urban had such a voice.
A Lesson in Manners serves up a panoramic view of the American experience—stories that vary considerably in technique and tone, yet all display the author’s vibrant imagination and keen eye for emotional truth. Some of the stories harness the inventive techniques of postmodernism, such as “Sally”, where we discover that, while we have been engrossed in the life of the title character, “the real story has been going on across the street.” Others serve up realism at its starkest, like the exploration of a wife’s financial infidelity in “Trying to Find a Corndog in Tompkins County.” From a co-ed’s encounter with cancer to a tale of grief and recovery set against the political dynamics of an alternative treatment center in suburban Illinois, Urban’s stories lead us into worlds that are unfamiliar, yet somehow recognizable in their parallels to our own. Most of all, what sets these stories apart is their deep authenticity. At every turn, one senses the author’s compassion for her subjects, and the more she cares, the more we feel ourselves caring as well.
Infused with crystalline language reminiscent of Bobbie Ann Mason and Ann Beattie, and a narrative playfulness recalling Donald Barthelme and John Barth, these stories bring us something truly not seen before in American literature. A Lesson in Manners is an extraordinary collection that distills the lives of ordinary people—refreshing, compelling, and moving.
Third Annual Clinton Book Festival, August 26, 10:00 am – 4: pm, Clinton Community College, Clinton, IA
Great River Writer’s Retreat Reading, September 6, 6:00 pm, Midwest Writing Center, Rock Island, IL
Expressing the Psalms Workshop, September 8-9, St. Mary’s Monastery, Rock Island, IL
Banned Books Reading, September 27, 6:00 pm, Midwest Writing Center
Book Bums Workshop, November 4, West Liberty Public Library, West Liberty, IA