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The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 22 Jul 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (22 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172876
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172872
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 445,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Lapidary and strange, these pieces are virtually free of narrative, depicting characters whose central failure is an inability to plot their own lives. Abstract nd impersonal, the prose fairly gleams in these pages. (Guardian Weekly)

About the Author

Elizabeth Hardwick (b. 1916) has been a frequent contributor to The Partisan Review, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, which she helped found in 1963. Her books include the novels The Simple Truth, The Ghostly Lover, and Sleepless Nights, the essay collection A View of My Own, and The Selected Letters of William James, for which she acted as editor.

DARRYL PINCKNEY, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of a novel, High Cotton, and Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature. He has worked for Robert Wilson on various theatrical projects, most recently an adaptation of Daniil Kharms’s The Old Woman.

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Angela M. Burdick on 2 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback
Bleak lives sweetened by her faultess poetic prose and her sharply perceptive eye. The typeface a little small for me. Arrived on time.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Articulate and Intelligent New York Cityscape 3 Jun. 2010
By Charles A. Ralston - Published on
Format: Paperback
A dozen stories by Elizabeth Hardwick (1916 -- 2007), whose sharp eye and biting wit is evident throughout each, are gathered in this New York Review Books edition, with an introduction by Darryl Pinckney, author of High Cotton, satiric novel about black (African-American) identity, and Sold and Gone: African-American Literature and U.S. Society.

`Evenings at Home' (published 1948) is set in Lexington, Kentucky, Hardwick's home town, which she left behind for New York, after graduation from the University of Kentucky in 1938, to work toward a Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia University. This autobiographical fiction captures the irony of a sophisticated New York intellectual discovering that her old Kentucky home is truly where the heart is, that she can indeed go home again after a long absence and still feel comfortable with family and friends. Her comfort shifts, however, to unsettled anxiety when she learns that the boy who had been her childhood love still lives in the neighborhood. She recalls her love as "not really love . . . but simply one of those incomprehensible youthful errors" but she still holds her now long-deceased brother, responsible for interfering with her infatuation. After a surprisingly long three weeks at home, it is time to return to New York, but not before visiting the cemetery, more to see its beautiful dogwoods and lilacs than to mourn, with her mother reminding her that "there's a space for you next to your Brother" and knowing that it is comforting to have these roots."

`The Friendly Witness' (1950) presents the reader with an all too familiar story of small-town political shenanigans involving the mayor and a night club owner who also runs gaming tables. The mayor and club owner, "antipathetic to the bone", nevertheless share an interest in the education of the mayor's daughter, such that the club owner matches $500 given by the mayor for his daughter's education. Thus the perception arrived at by reading the local newspaper that business again is in cahoots with government. (What else is new?) The mayor's wife and even his personal secretary are embarrassed by the accusations. The mayor, surrounded by negative speculation and feeling the best he could do now would be to make a public statement and resign from his position, is surprised to learn that the witness to the monetary gift, a scion of the community, called news reporters to her home to set the record straight by saying she had indeed witnessed the exchange of money from club owner to mayor, but that the mayor had said clearly that although he could not prevent the club owner from "showing a kindness to his daughter" he still intended to close any gambling establishment regardless. O. Henry would be proud.

Each of this set of Hardwick stories exhibits characters that test the limits of irony, rendering poignant moments into comic relief, passions into reluctant repose, and yearnings into faded, blurred memories. A lover (perhaps) replies to his lover's question, "Do you really love me?" with "well, yes and no, honey." A pompous university professor revels amidst colleagues who are know-it-all and above it all, yet his wife unnerves him with her admiration of academics who "give forth on matters never experienced . . . ideas flowing like wine--everything out of books and other people's lectures, nothing from actual life!" A painter intends to buy a painting of a colleague while making an alibi that is part of his plan to seduce his colleague's wife. American travelers in Amsterdam (not all of Hardwick's stories are set exclusively in New York) relish the paradox of cozy domesticity and violent emotional upheavals. "Amsterdam, a city of readers. All night long, you seemed to hear the turning of pages: pages of French, Italian, English, and the despised German. Those fair heads remembered Ovid, Yeats, Baudelaire - and remembered suffering, hiding, freezing. The weight of books and wars." And, a book seller, owner of The Pleaide (pronounced wittily as `Play Aid'), mulls over his books, not quite read, as well as his customers, who browse, shoplift, and sometimes even buy books. When not among his books and customers, he is in the rear of his shop typing as rapidly as a court stenographer from hand-written index cards, page after page of his latest novel. Shelved behind him are binders filled with perfectly-typed pages comprising thirteen (unpublished) novels. The Pleaide's stars, for its owner, are Kafka, Beckett, Walter Benjamin, Joyce, Akhmatova, and "old men from Japan with their whores in the snow mountains." The persistent themes of intimacy and alienation thread these stories together in a warp and weft culminating in Elizabeth Hardwick's articulate and intelligent cityscape of New York.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Growing into New York 11 Aug. 2012
By S. Smith-Peter - Published on
Format: Paperback
Readers will be rewarded by reading this collection of stories all the way through after starting with the excellent brief introduction by Darryl Pinckney, which provides a useful overview of Hardwick's life.

The first stories are a bit hard going, as they show the marks of a lacerating self-consciousness that's hard to read and must have been even harder to live. The female characters are second guessers and overanalyzers. The turning point is "The Final Conflict", a story told from an ordinary, non-reflective Boston antiques dealer's point of view. Hardwick seems to write better when men are the main characters of her short stories. It seems to free her somehow. My favorite part of the collection was at the end, when she had returned to New York from her long years in Boston. These stories, written in the 1980s and 1990s, are celebrations of the city and have a deep vein of joy running through them.

I was particularly moved by "Back Issues," which is set in the New York Public Library. Written in 1981, after the crisis of the 1970s, it celebrates the library as an oasis of permanence: "No reason to doubt the library, "Modern Renaissance more or less in the style of Louis XVI," has survived the night and its treasures, its flakey books, parcels of such peculiarity, will move back and forth from stack to hand like the tide going in and out." (p. 180) Actually, the books in the stacks are being moved to New Jersey to make room for a circulating library, so even that haven of permanence is no more. See the blog "Steamships are ruining everything" for some interesting material on this.

And here again on the library: "Diseases and litigious frenzies, tumors and fits, money owed and great corporations befouling an obscure, solitary person's dreams: Forty-second and Fifth is the roost of these afflictions and who knows but what a great speckled egg of amelioration or revenge lies buried in the stacks or down in the basement of the seldom-called for." (p. 184) Yes, that too.
Desperation & Revenge 23 Sept. 2013
By Jeffrey Swystun - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thanks to Amazon's algorithm for suggesting that I may like Elizabeth Hardwick's work. I did. As a fan of New York fiction and its writers (Lethem, Chabon, Carver, Yates, McCaan, Cheever) it was great to be introduced to an author I previously knew nothing about. What struck me most is her blunt honesty, she writes, "There is something false and perverse in my playing the observer." Hardwick appears to take comfort in being a serious scribe but also points out the ironies and foibles of those who consider themselves of greater intelligence than others, in one story a character attacks another, "How you talk about things with such godlike assurance! How you give forth on matters you have never experienced! Ideas flow like wine - everything out of books and other people's lectures, nothing from real life!"

The collection begins with a fine introduction to the author's life by Darryl Pinckney. It is incredibly telling especially when covering Hardwick's relationships with men. He believes she brought to life neglected histories using "daring intellectual pitch". For me, the stories are stark assessments of human behaviour and character. In them, some lines are pure gems, "he delivered energetic arguments on safe subjects." or "His attempts at wit had always been forced and he had now become one of those boring people who tell anecdotes about historical personages." or this delightful skewer, "The girl's personality was split wide open with contraries."

If my counsellor and therapist wife were to have read this I am betting that she would assess that Hardwick was influenced by some significant 'family of origin' issues. In fact, the author says as much through various characters, "The lofty intellectual has real family problems." and "the notions I have entertained about my family are fantastic manias, complicated, willful distortions." In one story she isolates herself, "My family situation is distinguished by only one eccentricity - it is entirely helpful and normal." The one tale that fictionalizes a return to her home state of Kentucky is one hell of a confession.

Her work is, at times, uncomfortable. There is a vein of anger that pulses bright red with frequency, "I took him apart nightly, as if his character were a bad novel." Sometimes that anger and jadedness works, "The clean cold air and the pale blue sky are the best the city has to offer and all the millions who have never held a golf club, ridden a horse, or skied in the mountains have reason to be thankful." Equally so it can fall flat and seem forced, "Madison Avenue - a feline thoroughfare with goods and mirrors meant to intimidate bone and flesh."

The collections is quite strong and interesting as it spans decades. This enables the reader to get a sense of the author at different periods of her life. Pinckney shares that Hardwick "disliked the word "creativity" and preferred to speak of the mystery of talent." More people need to be exposed to her talent. She possessed a dark sense of humour often saying that the two motivations to writing are desperation or revenge. Both of those are felt in spades throughout these short stories and obviously provided the fuel for her fire.
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