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Nice Big American Baby

Nice Big American Baby

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Add This - Nice Big American Baby

Written by Judy BudnitzAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Judy Budnitz

  • Format: Trade Paperback, 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • On Sale: February 14, 2006
  • Price: $13.95
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-72686-6 (0-375-72686-1)
Also available as an eBook.
about this book

A blazingly original, profoundly moving new work of fiction by a writer whose world—and imagination—knows no boundaries. “I don’t know what planet Judy Budnitz comes from,” said Newsweek on the publication of her fiction debut, Flying Leap, “but I’m happy to have her. Tremendous . . . funny, dark, adventurous, slanted, and enchanted.” These twelve astonishingly inventive stories—which take us into the heart of America and around the globe, from suburban backyards and swimming pools to war-torn streets and fallout shelters—are riveting, seductive, and impossible to forget.

In “Flush,” a mammogram prompts a dark comedy of blurred identities between a mother and her two adult daughters. In “Elephant and Boy,” a surrogate mother-and-son bond, tinged with the erotic, is formed when a philanthropist attempts to “civilize” a young elephant handler. “Nadia” sounds the depths of a young woman’s complex feelings toward a friend’s mail-order bride from Eastern Europe. “Preparedness”—an Orwellian tale in Technicolor—imagines rapture in the wake of imminent apocalypse. And in “Where We Come From,” a pregnant woman’s many failed attempts to cross the border do not lessen her resolve to give birth on U.S. soil to a “nice big American baby.”

Magical, poignant, often transcendent, these are virtuoso modern fables that mine our stores of hidden urges, misunderstandings, and blind passions, inviting us on a voyage through places and times at once deeply familiar and wondrously strange.

“Budnitz is a riveting young short-story writer whose weird fairy tales burrow toward truths . . . Budnitz has misgivings about America’s place in the world. But she avoids even the names of countries, burning away anything that will distract from the primal questions of who we are and what we owe each other. One reviewer recently advised Budnitz to write realistic fiction . . . She already does.” —Jeff Giles, Newsweek

“The literary short story is sometimes viewed as a snooty cousin in the genre family, one that holds itself aloof from its more boisterous relatives in speculative fiction. But the stories in Nice Big American Baby can talk to everyone at the family reunion because they are too well-written, outrageous and weirdly fascinating to avoid. Franz Kafka meets Gabriel García Márquez meets Lorrie Moore . . . If Budnitz confined herself to social commentary, her stories might come off as moralistic tricks. Instead, she is dedicated to the art of the tale, and she spins them with dark, witty abandon . . . And like the venerable Ursula K. LeGuin, the further Budnitz gets from reality, the more beautifully she writes about humanity . . . The most disturbing stories are the ones that operate close to the veneer of ordinariness . . . She draws on prejudices and cultural tensions we recognize, and distorts them to funhouse proportions. If there’s a theme to the stories in Nice Big American Baby, it’s the vertigo of crossing over—what her characters experience when they’re pushed over the line into new lands, into adulthood, into any world where the old rules no longer apply . . . [Budnitz’s] new collection is ripe, humorous and full of life—to put it aside is to wake from a strange, deliciously inventive dream.” —Sarah Cipher, The Oregonian

“Distinctive . . . Affecting . . . Crackle[s] with an ominous energy . . . [Budnitz’s] inventiveness makes the stories fascinating . . . Each story is a ‘what if’ question posed for our consideration and engineered to stick with us long after we’ve closed the book.” —Kristin Latina, The Providence Journal

“Colorful . . . A breath of fresh air. The underrepresented perspectives of illegal immigrants, mail-order brides and mothers awaiting their mammogram results all form a fabric of voices . . . While Budnitz deals with the domestic, there are aspects of Surrealism in her work. Future literary scholars will likely have a field day conjuring up names to label the literary Frankenstein to which she has given birth.” —Steve Saldivar, The Daily Californian

“From her portrait on the book jacket, Judy Budnitz looks like a prim New England prep-school girl, but she has the imagination of a haunted Eastern European political prisoner. Her stories, set in an uncanny and often uncaring world, gesture toward political discontent but resist outrage. In ‘Where We Come From’ a desperate pregnant young woman repeatedly attempts to crash through the US border from an unnamed country . . . ‘Nadia,’ a mail-order bride from Eastern Europe tries to adapt to her new country but is never fully alive with her husband . . . ‘Saving Face’ recounts the strange sequence of events by which the image of an innocent girl replaces the ominous gaze of the prime minister in a series of looming portraits . . . Artist and model, and their relationship to the government, remain a taunting conundrum.” —Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe

“Eminently readable . . . dark stuff, with occasional touches of humor. Budnitz’s stories are odd and discomfiting, but they’re beautifully constructed and written openly. Those willing to explore the dark underbelly of the myth the book’s title represents will find Nice Big American Baby to be fertile ground . . . Deftly crafted.” —Patrick Enright, Seattle Weekly

“Sometimes it takes a dose of surrealism to show how strange the real world can be. In the 12 stories in Nice Big American Baby, uncanny things happen . . . but the stories never feel contrived . . . Budnitz combines a wild imagination with a sharp sense of how the world works—and, oh yes, she’s also a terrific writer. Some of these stories focus on the personal, others can be read as political fables for our times . . . In every story, a sense of foreboding builds gradually and subtly, but the climaxes are anything but predictable. Dystopian, satirical, and often hilarious, Budnitz’s stories have echoes of Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson—but ultimately they stand alone, the work of a true original.” —Sarah Coleman, Planet: The Vision Issue

“Groundbreaking . . . [A] surefire classic . . . . Terrific, amazing, bold . . . Don’t ask questions: Drop your studies, run to the bookstore and read Judy Budnitz’s new collection of short stories, Nice Big American Baby. Rife with fresh ideas, these spellbinding tales read like the love child of “The Lottery” and The Martian Chronicles and deliver as thrilling a literary experience as their predecessors. Returning to an old-school form of storytelling that bespeaks of an author who watched too much “Twilight Zone” and Hitchcock as a child, Budnitz’s stories manage to convey modern, relevant ideas ranging from a bizarre mix of elements . . . All of Budnitz’s stories [deal] in the creepier parts of our humanity, revealing the vicious motivations of her characters and their appalling effects . . . We may certainly see some of [these] stories in a future Norton Anthology . . . Both accessible and smart, Nice Big American Baby returns the short story to a more solid form of fiction that is difficult to find on today’s bookshelves . . . Contains some jaw-dropping pieces that may well be what contemporary American fiction needs to save itself from itself.” —Christine Newgard, The Daily Texan

“Powerful . . . Graceful and singular . . . A crisp and witty stylist, Budnitz has a knack for dropping her characters into universes that are just slightly off-kilter; each sparkles with a chiseled edge . . . The thematic core of the book is the relations between parents and their children, and particularly mothers and their daughters [and their] sometimes cloying, sometimes distancing and always deeply felt bond . . . The flawed connections between mothers and their children are illuminated wisely here . . . Beyond the politics and culture of family, the politics and culture of race, poverty and autocracy are also subjects of a number of the stories. This is a collection that offers much in the way of both emotion and imagination. Budnitz manages to be both funny and serious, whimsical and substantive: With a wry rap across the knuckles she draws our attention to vital things.” —Lydia Millet, Washington Post Book World

“. . .[Budnitz's] newest [book] just might deserve that most hackneyed of publishing accolades: an original new voice. Judy Budnitz's stories have been characterized as contemporary fairy tales, riffs on the gothic, and surrealist political allegories . . . Nice Big American Baby contains twelve stories that warily circle around themes of caretaking, parenthood, and babies—genuine babies, or adults who just act like them . . . I like her writing a lot. The way [the lead] story veers off into fantasy without losing any of its emotional claims on the reader speaks to Budnitz’s distinctive power as a writer. But unlike other innovative works of fiction, Budnitz’s stories are not so caught up in their own private code that a reader reaches the end and asks, ‘What was that all about?’ In tone and technique, Budnitz’s collection reminds me a lot of John Cheever’s classic and reader-friendly fantasy about suburbia gone sour, The Swimmer . . . Budnitz is weird, but engagingly so. As a writer, she herself never swims so far out that we readers drown in her wake.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air on NPR

“The verdict: Nice big American talent. If you crossed the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez with the hip contemporary voice of Lorrie Moore, you might come up with something like the fiction of Judy Budnitz . . . Ranging from a wild surrealism (Franz Kafka would appear to be another of her masters) to a deft psychological realism, [Budnitz’s] method is to establish a governing conceit and exploit its possibilities to the furthest imaginable limit. What keeps her stories from being self-indulgently ‘experimental’ or stylistically precious is the formidable control she exerts over her material. The writing is unfailingly crisp and free of mannerisms, and she exhibits a practiced surefootedness that is rare in so young a writer . . . Wonderfully funny and sharply observed . . . Impressive . . . Moving . . . Exuberant . . . Few contemporary writers of any age can offer the range and versatility so triumphantly on display in Nice Big American Baby. In this her third book, Judy Budnitz has shown herself to be one of America’s most engaging and innovative fictional voices.” —Greg Johnson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Extraordinary . . . daring, haunting and utterly original. [Budnitz] has the uncanny ability to match macabre scenarios with offbeat, dark humor and magic realism with captivating storytelling. [Her] deft storytelling makes her stories strangely believable as well as absorbing. In ‘Where We Come From,’ [a pregnant woman undergoes] a series of terrifying border crossings so her child will be ‘a nice, big, American baby,’ a phrase in which every word is loaded with unsettling meaning . . . Eerie . . . Memorable . . . Enchanting . . . The buzz on Budnitz is that she is one of a kind, a big talent who juggles the fantastic, surreal, political and futuristic without breaking a sweat. The impressive Nice Big American Baby . . . leaves us breathless, astonished and more than a little bit awed.” —Susan Miron, Miami Herald

“Masterly . . . Sparkling . . . [‘Miracle’ was] one of [The New Yorker’s] most striking stories in years . . . Budnitz takes human anxieties and overlays them with a surreal twist and a sprinkling of the absurd. Reading Budnitz’s stories is like experiencing the exhilaration of flight along with the queasiness of vertigo . . . Despite their range of subject matter and genres, the stories share a unique tone that combines offbeat humor, unnerving details and emotional resonance . . . Distinctive, imaginative.” —Sarah Coleman, San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s Judy Budnitz’s world, and we are all just visitors. Or so it seems when reading the fiction of this provocative writer, whose work may remind one a bit of Aimee Bender here, a touch of George Saunders there, but is, in the end, entirely original. Budnitz’s new story collection serves up [a] potent stew of surrealism, comedy and horror . . . brimming with graphic images that are plainly intended to disturb . . . For dauntless readers, the rewards are considerable . . . Intriguing.” —Donna Rifkind, Baltimore Sun

Nice Big American Baby, is . . . not very much like anything else . . . [But] writers who come to mind are Amy Hempel (for her minimalism and sharp dialogue), Margaret Atwood (for her dystopian climates and anthropological slant), Joy Williams, one of my favorite American writers (for her general strangeness and social satire—though Budnitz is somewhat darker, less hopeful), and flashes of Lorrie Moore-style wit are sprinkled throughout . . . While this is a difficult book to pin down or pigeonhole, it isn’t a difficult book to marvel at or enjoy . . . These stories overwhelmingly work gracefully and well . . . Emotionally engaging and balanced . . . Budnitz has a knack for . . . very striking visual images . . . Powerfully unsettling . . . Rich with uncanny visions and ominous momentum. Provocative, disturbing, wry, and just plain fascinating, Nice Big American Baby is some of the best new American short fiction I’ve read in years.” —Jill Owens,

“Sharp and even ingenious . . . In ‘Flush,’ the absurd recalls Barthelmean tenderness. A mother refuses to have a mammogram; a daughter insists on taking her. The mother slips away just before her name is called; embarrassed, the daughter gets it instead . . . Scream a little softer, the saying goes. ‘Flush’ screams very quietly indeed. It makes itself heard with clarity and grace.” —Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“The breadth of these stories, from Kafkaesque surrealism to tightly wrought naturalism, is breath-taking in itself, but what unites this extraordinary collection is its unnerving verve and vision. There isn’t anything Judy Budnitz can’t or won’t do, and right when you think she couldn’t possibly be more inventive and daring and smart and universal, she proves you wrong. Almost every story both surpasses and defeats the reader’s expectations . . . This collection is a joyful book, one that knows the difference between sharp social commentary and captivating narrative, and gets both right.” —Fred Leebron, Ploughshares

“Excellent . . . Young and precociously talented, Budnitz writes stories that are wildly imaginative [and] thought-provoking . . . Like Kafka in ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Budnitz often establishes a far-fetched premise and treats it with deadpan literalism. What if a family kept traveling salesmen imprisoned in a pen, as if they were farm animals? What if a deranged Civil War surgeon planted amputated limbs in a field? Budnitz, at heart, is a political writer, and a number of her stories are powered by anger at the disparity of wealth between the first and third worlds, and the obliviousness of the privileged to the suffering of the oppressed. The collision of Budnitz’s political agenda with her subversive narrative imagination gives these stories their distinctive feel. At her best, Budnitz invents outrageous plots that somehow carry the weight of truth . . . [She] can write. . .realist fiction, too, with a sure-handed grasp of the form . . . ‘Immersion,’ a troubling narrative about black kids who take over a public pool during the dark days of the polio epidemic reveals [the] terrible self-defeating tribal realities of race ferociously and affectingly . . . ‘Flush’ is a lovely, haunting meditation on the odd, selfish and selfless ways people act when forced to face up to their own mortality and those of their family members . . . [Budnitz] is a gifted writer.” —Tom Perrotta, New York Times Book Review

“Budnitz is an engaging and talented storyteller. All 12 of [these] tightly woven tales open with descriptions of mundane, everyday lives, and then subtly draw the reader into their uncanny plotlines . . . Budnitz’s stories are so compelling [because] she inspires you to wonder what her characters will do next, and always manages to send them veering in unpredictable directions.” —Julia Cosgrove, Time Out New York

“I can tell you what Nice Big American Baby is not: an infant care primer. The latest hot mommy-lit novel. A memoir of childhood obesity. That’s the easy part, much easier than summarizing the actual contents of Budnitz’s collection of fabulist stories . . . Budnitz’s narratives stretch along with her characters, who adapt to disappointment and adversity in most peculiar ways–by shape-shifting, vanishing or learning to love the thing they despise. This may not be mommy lit, but Budnitz does dwell on mother-child blurriness in several stories . . . [She] has so much fun inflating parental ambivalence to mythical proportions that even standard anxieties about lactation and bonding take on an uncanny glow . . . Budnitz’s voice is comfortable and perfectly pitched, and her characters live and think in ways that feel vaguely familiar. Yet the laws of the universe are different here. Tiny hints of strangeness slowly spread over every surface . . . We are bystanders in Budnitz’s world, and after a few hours here, it’s hard to see arms, legs, babies, or anything else quite the same way again.” —Joy Press, Village Voice

“Darkly modern fables . . . [A] world of disturbing fairy tales where the unreal and the impossible are commonplace . . . [Budnitz] creates the sense of a collective worldwide mythologizing of America, a country where, as [one character] has heard, ‘they give you a free dishwasher the minute you cross the border’ . . . Budnitz adeptly depicts the relationship between a woman, her sister and their mother in ‘Flush’ [and] speaks eloquently of the essential sameness of female family members who mistakenly believe, when things are going well, that they are not at all alike . . . [Budnitz] writes of fantastical occurrences that lay bare the harsh injustice of the world.” —Mary Lowry, Austin American-Statesman

“Judy Budnitz is the real thing . . . I could compare her to other writers: Angela Carter, who wrote feminist revisions of fairy tales. Haruki Murakami, whose stories are grounded in the quotidian details of daily life until they veer off into the surreal. Alice Sebold, whose The Lovely Bones manages to be tragic and uplifting at the same time. But Budnitz’s stories are like no one else’s: fabulist and down to earth, personal and political, wicked and generous, always surprising. You can catch the tone from the very first line of the first story, ‘Where We Come From’ . . . The voice is deadpan, but also has the rhythm of stand-up comedy. The second sentence is so unexpected that it makes you laugh . . . [A pregnant woman is] going to sneak over the border and give birth to a ‘nice big American baby’ . . . [It’s] a fairly realistic story told in a fablelike tone, but something strange is about to happen . . . Have I mentioned Kafka? Other stories explore the intimate relationships between parents and children. . . Some of the later stories feature apocalypse, war, racism and other social catastrophes, but they’re always strangely entertaining. I can’t think of another writer who combines Budnitz’s twisted imagination, sharp sense of humor and assured prose style with a real sense of having something to say about issues both intimate and global. She has huge ambitions, and in Nice Big American Baby she realizes them with aplomb.” —Laurie Muchnick, Newsday

“Budnitz’s stark, sardonic short stories are structured like fairy tales and tilt toward the macabre . . . Edgy and inventive, she works in broad strokes to capture the trickle-down consequences of dictatorship, war, poverty, and environmental destruction . . . [She] is especially devastating in her more intimate tales . . . At her best, Budnitz achieves the brilliant creepiness and frisson of Shirley Jackson; and in all her stories, her deadpan tone perfectly embodies the dehumanizing situations she so imaginatively and daringly dramatizes.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Strange, lovely . . . An offbeat sense of humor shines through much of Budnitz’s new collection [which] centers on familial relationships. The author, true to form, mines them for all their weird complexity . . . While [two of the stories] move through the twilight terrain of parents and infants, some of the collection’s strongest stories document the equally strange wastelands that separate adult children from their parents. [Other stories] turn a soberer eye toward culture and politics. Antic descriptions make Budnitz’s prose sparkle, but she also has a talent for painting with a broader comical brush . . . For all their fanciful plot events and moments of wit, these stories are serious—meaty and unsettling. When Budnitz looks at people’s relationships to their natural, adopted, and sometimes imagined children, she does not see (as I had dreaded she might) expensive strollers and brightly colored outfits, the signs of the sinister entitlement our generation seems to feel about having babies. Rather, instances of unkindness, guilt, confusion, and fear catch her eye; she uses her prodigious gifts to coax her reader away toward and into such difficult moments.” —Emily Barton, BookForum

“The buzz is right: The short story is making a comeback. For proof, look no further than the spare, polished gems in Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby. Budnitz writes fantastic stories that nonetheless feel deeply familiar . . . [One story’s] final twist would not be out of place in a warped and revealing episode of Sex and the City . . . [Budnitz has] precision, depth, and humor.” —Michelle Chihara, Mother Jones

“Brilliant, heartbreaking, funny stories, by a writer who is political in the very best sense of that word, meaning: intensely aware of the value of even the least human heart, and that any one person’s suffering belongs to us all.” —George Saunders, author of Civilwarland in Bad Decline

“Budnitz creates her own hybrid brand of stark, dystopian reality in this impressive collection, working an odd jumble of fantastical, historical and contemporary detail into stories that comment obliquely on the current state of human affairs. In ‘Where We Come From,’ a pregnant woman desperate to have her baby in America goes to great lengths to cross the border, waiting for years to give birth . . . In the disturbing and seemingly futuristic world of ‘Sales,’ door-to-door salesmen are rounded up and kept in an unlocked pen from which they choose not to escape. Funny and sad at once, it’s a kind of twisted love story in which a young woman’s attempts to help are rejected: ‘The salesmen don’t know that I am trying to help them, they yell at me that I’m ruining business, standing in the way of normal commerce. The customer is always right! they scream.’ Budnitz’s first-person narrators are pitch perfect, helping the reader to see from their perspectives, no matter how odd it might be. These masterfully crafted stories will thrill readers of literary fiction who hunger for an innovative American voice.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“Twelve tales edging toward the surreal yet grounded in nitty-gritty details of domesticity. ‘Where We Come From’ sets the tone, somewhere between fairy tale and ghost story . . . Budnitz shows major talent in her creation of a distinctive fiction world, ambiguous and complex.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Thank god that Judy Budnitz is Judy Budnitz and no one else, and that no one else is Judy Budnitz. This collection is singular and unforgettable and utterly affecting . . . Budnitz has a way of investing so much soul in her stories that you buy it all, completely and utterly, and you can’t turn the pages fast enough. Judy Budnitz is one of the most consistently brave young writers we have.” —Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and editor of McSweeney’s

“Judy Budnitz can make the most fantastic landscapes credible, and the most ordinary events marvelous and strange. These amazing stories remind me a little of Flannery O’Connor, and mostly of no one; once you’ve read a Budnitz story, you can’t mistake her for anybody else.” —Nell Freudenberger, author of Lucky Girl

“Judy Budnitz’s stories glow. This collection—brilliant, unpretentious and addictive—reconfirms that Budnitz is in a class by herself among today’s young literary writers. She manages what Kafka managed a century earlier: to craft small pockets of the universe both surreal and hilariously absurd, and from this to extract moving reflections into the very real core of our own emotions and fears, this time of family, politics and love. One day some generation of people will have to think of a new name for Budnitz’s special brand of storytelling; in the meantime let’s be grateful we get it first.” —Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club

“Judy Budnitz is a fabulist, a realist, a dystopianist, a social satirist, a humanist, and a teller of morality tales—sometimes all at once. Her stories defy genre. They are frightening and funny, chilling and sad, utterly unafraid to portray the human animal in all its glorious absurdity.  Budnitz is a master of the unexpected, a virtuoso of the strange—and yet she is unfailingly astute in her portrayal of relationships between mothers and daughters, between men and women, between oppressors and the oppressed. These are astoundingly good stories; you will never forget them.” —Julie Orringer, author of How to Breathe Underwater

Nice Big American Baby will take you through the rabbit hole to the other side—Judy Budnitz’s side—where something strange, exciting, and unforgettable is sure to happen. The writing here is fearless, mixed with politics and magic, great wit and remarkable skill. Judy Budnitz is breaking new ground. Everyone should be reading this.” —Hannah Tinti, author of Animal Crackers

“This is fiction that’s fierce and true, hilarious and creepy, wise and graceful and occasionally very, very strange. The next time someone tells you the short story is dead, throw this book at them.” —Daniel Handler (“Lemony Snicket”), author of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight

“These are truly astounding tales—dark, funny, and bruisingly delivered—that invite us to gaze into the funhouse mirror of our global moment. Judy Budnitz is a ferocious talent. Her stories linger and expand in the mind.” —Robert Cohen, author of Inspired Sleep

“Tightly rendered stories that echo the mysterious, seductive power of dreams. Nice Big American Baby demonstrates Budnitz’s deft and resonant use of the surreal to subvert the sentimental. These are emotionally charged, darkly outrageous fables, brought into sharp relief by an urgent new voice in contemporary American literature.” —Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times

“Judy Budnitz is easily one of the bravest and most exhilarating writers of my generation. And with these wickedly funny stories, she boldly transforms our culture into breathtaking myth. This book has serious compassion and big time originality: a harrowing testament to the miracle of modern life.” —Gabe Hudson, author of Dear Mr. President