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  • Written by Amanda Eyre Ward
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  • Written by Amanda Eyre Ward
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Written by Amanda Eyre WardAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Amanda Eyre Ward

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On Sale: April 07, 2009
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-345-51491-2
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From San Francisco to Savannah, Montana to Texas, Amanda Eyre Ward’s characters are united in their fervent search to find a place where they truly belong. Annie, a librarian in a small mining town, must choose between the only home she’s ever known and the possibility of a new future. Casey, a suburban New Yorker with a wry sense of humor, braves the dating scene after losing her husband. And in six linked stories spanning a decade of her life, Lola Wilkerson navigates elopement, motherhood, and lingering questions about who she wants to be when she grows up. Whether exploring the fierceness of a mother’s love or the consolations of marriage, Amanda Eyre Ward’s stories are imbued with humor, clear-eyed insight, and emotional richness.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

Should I Be Scared?

I first heard about Cipro at the potluck.

“Thank God I’ve got Cipro,” said Zelda. “My doctor prescribed it for a urinary tract infection, and I still have half the pills.”

“Cipro?” I said, my mouth full of artichoke dip.

“Honey,” said Zelda, “where have you been?”

It was a cold, clear night in Austin, Texas. After the disgusting heat of summer, the cool was a balm. Zelda wore a giant sweater, knit loosely from rough, rusty-colored wool. She stood next to the barbecue, holding her hands in front of the hot coals. In the kitchen, my husband and his scientist friends concocted an elaborate marinade.

“Anthrax,” whispered Zelda. She had just begun to date my husband’s thesis advisor, and lent an air of glamour to departmental potlucks.

“Excuse me?” I said. I took a large sip of wine, which had come from a cardboard box.

“Ciprofloxacin,” clarified Zelda, hissing over the syllables. “It’s the anthrax vaccine. A super-antibiotic. If we’re dropped on by, like, a crop duster, Cipro is what you’ll need. And,” she lowered her voice again, “there isn’t enough for everyone.”

Zelda wore scarves and held her wineglass with her hands wrapped around the bowl. When she sipped, her eyes peered over the top, bright coins. She wore high leather boots and worked in a steel building downtown for a company that made expensive software. She had described her job to me: “It’s an output management solution, and I market it. It connects the world.” We had no idea why Zelda wanted to spend her evenings, which could obviously be spent in snazzier locales, with us. We wore Birkenstocks.

I was a scientist’s wife. This title pleased me. I also worked at Ceramic City, where people could paint their own pottery. My title at Ceramic City was “color consultant.” This title did not please me. I was trying to figure out what to do with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology, with a focus on the egalitarian foragers of the Kalahari Desert.

“Oh,” I said to Zelda, regarding the Cipro. It was times like this that I felt lucky to have a scientist for a husband. I could ask him later for details, and he would not laugh at me. He explained things patiently, drawing circles and arrows on the margins of the newspaper.

“Hey, ladies!” said a dark figure, emerging from the kitchen. It was my husband’s thesis advisor. “Is that fire ready for some birds?”

Zelda smiled charmingly. The light from the coals made her look a little scary when she turned to me.

“Get some for yourself,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m serious,” she said, and then she turned her face up to meet her lover’s lips.

My husband explained in the dark of our bedroom that ingesting expensive antibiotics for no reason was a bad course of action. We had pulled the covers over our heads and invited the cat into the warm cave. My husband called the cat “spelunker,” saying, “What do you think, little spelunker? Do you think we should let the terrorists make us afraid? Do you think we should buy canned goods and a six-day supply of water?” (The last was in reference to my actions of the previous day, when I had arrived home with twenty-eight cans of Progresso soup and three gallons of water.)

This was the beginning of the War on Terrorism.

Two weeks before, we had discussed what to eat for dinner and if we were drinking too much beer. We had talked about having a baby, mowing the lawn, and what sort of dog we should adopt. (My husband was partial to standard poodles, and I liked little dogs that could sit in your lap or in your purse. If you carried a purse.)

In those days—which seemed impossibly bright now, ?untarnished—we had talked idly about what sort of fishing rod my husband should buy with his jar of quarters. My husband came home each night, took the change from his pants pocket, and dropped it into a large water jug; he claimed he had done this since he was six years old, and the first time the jug filled (right before I met him), he bought a canoe. The canoe! He loved it ferociously. He named the canoe after me, wrote my name in Wite-Out on the side. One night, when I was reading and he was asleep, he spoke. “You’re the best,” he said, his arms around my waist, squeezing. I checked: he was in dreamland, speaking from that place. “You’re the best,” he repeated. “You’re the best, best, best canoe in the world.”

In the end, we had decided that we wanted a baby more than a dog or a fishing rod, and we had thrown away my birth control pills and made love slowly, with the moon shining a soft light over us.

Things had changed so quickly and forcefully that it seemed to me my husband hadn’t quite accepted the fact that we were in danger. I lay in bed in the mornings now, hearing helicopters and listening to the news.

“Your dad is making fun of me,” I told the cat under the covers. I began to cry a little, and my husband said he was sorry.

The next morning, from behind the counter at Ceramic City, I called Dr. Fern. The first time the nurse answered, I hung up. I was alone in Ceramic City, but I did not know what to say to the nurse. Was I being crazy? I wanted to think so. My mother, who lived in Connecticut and had gone to three funerals for her friends’ sons, told me that it was unpatriotic to want some Cipro for myself. When I told her I was afraid to get out of bed, she said, “That’s just how the terrorists want you to feel.”

I called Dr. Fern again. This time, when the nurse answered, I said that I would like to make an appointment.

“Issue?” said the nurse.

“Excuse me?” I said. A man peeked into the window of Ceramic City. I thought, Fuck.

“What is the issue,” said the nurse, “that you need to see the doctor about?”

“Uh, I’d like to get a prescription,” I said.

“For?”

“For ciprofloxacin,” I said. The peeking man came inside and began to wander around, inspecting Personalized Pottery.

“Beg pardon?” said the nurse. Was she instructed not to use full sentences?

“In case of an anthrax attack on America,” I said, “I would like to have my own supply of antibiotics.” The man was holding a blue bowl painted with fish. He stared at me.

“Oh my,” said the nurse.

“Well, so,” I said. I put my hand over the mouthpiece. “Can I be of assistance?” I asked the man.

“My wife’s birthday is Tuesday,” he said.

“One moment, please,” I said. The nurse told me that she would have to consult with the doctor and get back to me. She took my number. When I hung up the phone, I saw that the man had put the bowl back on the shelf.

“Should I be scared?” he asked. .??.??.

The nurse called later that afternoon and explained in no uncertain terms that the doctor would not give me the drugs I had requested. She added that it was against every tenet of the medical establishment to prescribe drugs when a patient was not ill. I hung up the phone, instead of saying, “You self-important bitch.” At home that evening, I cried again.

My husband watched me skeptically. We were eating Freebird burritos, sitting on our front porch and peeling off aluminum foil in small, metal circles. “We’re not going to get anthrax,” said my husband. He made a sound that I would classify as an incredulous snort.

“I know!” I said. I bit into my burrito, which I had ordered with extra guacamole. Extras were a dollar, and usually I refrained, but I had the feeling that I should live life to the fullest, and make a celebration of every day.

“And I want you to stop watching so much television,” said my husband. He had been talking, it seemed, for some time. I nodded, and he turned his head toward me, squinting as if I were a scientific mystery. “Oh, honey,” he said.

Nonetheless, I did watch television that night after my husband had fallen asleep. I sat in the front room in my pajamas, watching bombs and food rations fall. I drank a warm glass of milk and watched dirty children rip open bags of Pop-Tarts and jam them into their mouths.

The next day, I discovered an advertisement for Cipro on the back page of the Austin Chronicle. There it was, sandwiched between a massage therapist and a Spanish tutor: cipro available 1-800-cipronow. (The last “W,” it seemed, was for effect.) Ceramic City was empty again, and I picked up the phone.
Amanda Eyre Ward|Author Q&A

About Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward - Love Stories in This Town

Photo © Cory Ryan

Amanda Eyre Ward is the award-winning author of Forgive Me, How to Be Lost and Sleep Toward Heaven. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.
To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at www.apbspeakers.com  

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Amanda Eyre Ward


Random House Reader’s Circle: Most of your readers know you as a novelist, but you have actually been a short-story writer for longer than you have been a novelist. Can you talk a little about how and when you first started writing stories?

 A:
I went to Williams College, where I signed up for Jim Shepard’s Introductory Fiction Workshop. I showed up the first day to find the room packed. Jim (Professor Shepard to me then) told us we could submit one story, and he would choose the members of the small class and post a list on his office door. Many of the other students had folders of stories, neatly stapled, but although I was an avid reader, I had never written a story before. I was reading Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver at that time. I typed all night on my Brother word processor, creating a story about a speed-addled trucker on an all-night run. I think the trucker ended up in a “wall of flames.” I wasn’t hopeful, so I didn’t even check the list on Jim’s door. When a friend congratulated me, I had already missed the first class. I showed up the next week, and Jim said, “Now where were you for the first meeting, Amanda?” 

“I was at the mall buying sneakers.” 

“At the mall buying sneakers,” Jim said. “Class,” he said, “this is what we call off to a flying start.” 

After this “flying start,” I never looked back. Jim taught us what a short story was. He also showed his students, by example, that one could write fiction, that it was possible to study and work hard and become an author, the same way others might become a banker or a hockey coach. This was a revelation to me. My father remembers a moment in his car when I opened the envelope with my final grade in Jim’s class–a B-minus–and burst into tears. It was the only grade I cared about, and by the end of college, writing a beautiful short story was the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be Raymond Carver, Rick Bass, and Richard Ford, so after a year abroad, I moved to Montana. 

RHRC: How do you think your writing has changed since then? 

A:
In Missoula, I was imitating writers I loved. My professor at the University of Montana, William Kittredge, taught me to expand my repertoire, to rely on honesty–on my story, what I had to say–instead of shock value. I expanded my reading list, devouring Paul Bowles, Mona Simpson, James Salter, Katherine Anne Porter, Michael Cun ningham, and Jennifer Egan. I began to slow my sentences down, working to trust character development, to choose sincerity over sarcasm. He also told me that if I wanted to be a novelist, I needed to move to where my best friend was and write my damn book. 

RHRC: One of the stories in this collection grew out of a story you wrote as a graduate student. Can you tell us about that? 

A:
“Miss Montana’s Wedding Day” was my first published short story. It won third prize in the Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest, and when they called to tell me, I was busy at my latest job, answering phones at a software company. I told my colleagues the exciting news, and one called out, “Hey everyone! Amanda’s going to have one of her stories published in the Pennysaver!” 

It was strange to revisit the story. I was a heartbroken graduate student when I wrote it, so it was interesting to peek back in time, to see how I viewed love. I now understand some things about the character Lola that I didn’t understand then. Sometimes that happens–I don’t know why a story or book isn’t working, and I give up, but when I revisit the work later, some event or knowledge enables me to understand the piece. 

On a technical level, I liked to rely on pointing out local color a bit too much, I think. I wanted the setting to tell the reader things that could be conveyed only by allowing readers into Lola’s thoughts. (I was trying to be like Paul Bowles . . . his use of setting is unsettling and amazing.) My editor, Anika Streitfeld, has worked on all four books of mine, and she’s really encouraged me to let readers into a character’s thoughts. Almost every first draft comes back with pages of Anika’s red-penned notes saying, “What is she thinking here?” and “A bit about what he’s feeling.” 

The end of “Miss Montana’s Wedding Day,” when Abe says, “There are no love stories in this town,” seemed very bleak and revelatory to me when I wrote the story. Instead of a sad statement about Lola’s future, I now see it as a harbinger of things to come: Lola will leave that town, and she will have a love story of her own. 

RHRC: What do you usually start with when you’re setting out to write a short story? How do you know that the mate rial is better suited to a story than to a novel? 

A:
Generally, I think in “scenes.” I’ll see an image–a woman sitting at an airport bar, or a man in a canoe. So for “The Stars Are Bright in Texas,” for example, I saw a couple house hunting, an unhappy woman in the back of a minivan. I’m interested in places like The Woodlands, outside Houston, so I set the story there. As Kimberly and Greg moved through their house hunt, however, I wasn’t sure if the “scene” would be a story, a piece of a novel . . . I didn’t know. And when it ended, with Kimberly walking toward Greg at the airport, I just knew the story was over. I didn’t need to follow them back to Bloomington, or see how they ended up. I realized that the story was an exploration of loss counterbalanced with hope. And whether or not that hope was fulfilled wasn’t what I wanted to write about. 

On the other hand, I am now working on a novel, and as I’m following the characters through the scenes, I just keep thinking more of their past and future, and how their stories will dovetail. I don’t know how to explain it–I know there’s a novel (or maybe ten) there. I wish I knew how it would all work out, but as long as the images keep coming, I feel lucky. 

RHRC: “Should I Be Scared” and “The Way the Sky Changed” take place in the wake of 9/11. Did you write them soon after the events in the story occurred? Were these difficult stories to write? 

A:
I am from Rye, New York, a town that was deeply affected by 9/11. There are so many heartbreaking stories from my town–families who lost fathers, families who lost sons. And I hadn’t lived in Rye for a long time, so it always seemed somewhat idyllic in my memory, a childhood place full of walks to school with my best friend, white picket fences, and lemonade stands. After the collapse of the towers, I was devastated–it seemed impossible that not even Rye was safe. I remember I went to a reading that week, it was Jonathan Franzen reading from The Corrections at Book People in Austin. I raised my hand and asked him if he’d ever be able to write about normal, calm life again. He thought my question was strange, and said, “Of course I will.” (Everyone reacted in a different way–in several interviews since, I’ve read Franzen’s take on the 9/11 aftermath, and how it has, in some ways, affected his work.) I drove home that night wondering if I was crazy for feeling so frightened. I wrote “Should I Be Scared?” soon after 9/11, and I have to admit that I did, indeed, get a prescription for ciprofloxacin. I hid the pills in a baggie in my utensil drawer. I didn’t write “The Way the Sky Changed” for a while. I actually wrote a short play first about a policeman coming to a 9/11 widow’s apartment with her husband’s remains. As time passed, the aftermath of 9/11 became so awful it was surreal–the hairbrushes, the bones. I know that many people have been hurt around the world by acts of terrorism, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over September 11. 

RHRC: “Shakespeare.com” also captures a particular time and place–the Internet boom in San Francisco. Can you tell us about the evolution of this story? 

A:
I worked at many different jobs during the Internet boom–I was just out of graduate school, and though newspapers were calling the time a boom, I had never known anything different. At one point, I got a job as a “Curriculum Developer” for a company in Austin. We had a great time, and most of the details about margarita machines and puppies are true. But there was always a gnawing sense that we might not all strike it rich with this venture. I guess I like the idea that Mimi is knocking at the door of the real world–parenthood, responsibility–but not quite walking through it yet. 

The first draft of the story ended with Mimi realizing that she is not pregnant, and the company getting more money and Girl Scout cookies. I sent the story out and was contacted by M.M.M. Hayes, the editor of Story Quarterly. We had a great conversation about the story, and she said that she felt I had dropped the ball at the end. She told me she wanted stories that “opened out,” or gave a reader some wider sense of the world. 

I took her comments to heart, and I’m really proud of the final story. Like the dinosaurs, Mimi and Leo are about to get hit: by parenthood, by adulthood, by world events like 9/11. 

RHRC: As the title suggests, place plays an important role in this collection. How did you come up with the settings for the various stories? How is writing about places you have lived in different from writing about places you haven’t? 

A:
Luckily, in my search for a home, I’ve lived in many places. And place is very important to me. I can hardly write about a place I don’t really know, though it’s often years after I leave a place that I want to write about it. Some time needs to pass before I can figure out what a place has meant to me, what I’ve learned there. But for the stories to work together, they couldn’t all be set in the same towns. “Shakespeare .com,” for example, was moved from Austin to San Francisco. My editor’s husband, Jared Luskin, had worked in an Internet start-up, so he was able to help me relocate the story without too much trouble. I kept some of the Austin bars, however. Jovita’s is here in Austin–you won’t find it south of Market. 

In general, I don’t like to write about places I don’t know well. There’s no substitute for walking the streets of a city, sitting at a local diner, driving the same streets every day to get to work. 

Now that I’ve settled in Austin, Texas, for a while if not forever, I’m interested in neighbors, in the way proximity leads to friendship and dependence. I’m also able, once in a while, to turn off the fiction writer’s radar, to not always be noting the local customs, as if I’m in a foreign country and not in my yard. But that’s another story. 

RHRC: Can you talk about how Lola developed? 

A:
Well, originally, she was named Vera, for one thing. When I realized I had enough stories for a collection, I wasn’t sure which stories were about the same character. Many of the women were the same age, and many were married (as I am) to a geologist. 

It took some time to trust myself and figure out which characters were connected and how . . . putting all the stories together was very difficult. Each story was written to be its own world, to stand alone. I had to think about how the book would flow thematically. I feel as if I have a sense about how to structure a novel at this point, but putting this collection together was challenging. I am still changing the order of the stories–even as the book is about to be typeset. 

RHRC: Do you think you will continue to write about Lola? 

A:
I’m sure I will. I love her, and I can’t wait to see how her life turns out. I hope she goes back to vet school. I had also written a scene in which she and Emmett are much older and get matching tattoos–I’d like to use that scene someday. 

RHRC: Some of these stories went through a number of rounds of editing. How does that process work? How do you know when a story is finished? 

A:
I always feel scared to say that a story is finished, I think. Honestly, I could keep working on all of these stories. But at some point, you do feel that a subtle balance has been achieved–the characters’ actions feel true. But Anika and I worked on some of these stories through a dozen or more drafts. I would generally send her a story, and she would send detailed notes, or give me a call. Then I’d let her comments sit with me, and go back at the story. I always get very upset at this stage–hacking away at a story’s foundations makes me feel that the whole thing will come crashing down. But Anika has edited all three of my novels, so I take solace when she tells me, “You were just as nervous with How to Be Lost.” Each time, it feels like a new terror. Anyway, sometimes a day, sometimes a week, later I would send Anika a new draft. One thing I’ve learned through editing these stories is that sometimes Anika will say, “This ending isn’t working,” but I don’t have to fix the ending. I have to fix, perhaps, the character’s morning, or her job, or her husband . . . the scenes leading up to the last scene. Sometimes the problem is where I least expect it. Anika might feel that the character’s actions are not working, but sometimes it may not be the actions but the way I set them up. And there’s never a simple answer. For example, in one draft of “Mother hood and Terrorism,” the husband was named Anthony, and he was an investment banker. We went through numerous drafts before I realized that the female character was, in fact, Lola, and the husband was Emmett. So Anthony got sent to the graveyard. There’s a big pile of discarded characters for this book. I think of them all in a serene graveyard, waiting to be exhumed. 

RHRC: What was it like to have your first book in the world, to become a published author? 

A:
When my first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven, was published, I had listened to a hundred readings, and had always thought about what it might feel like to be the one behind the podium . . . I never thought I’d be wearing a maternity dress. The publication process was different from what I had expected, actually. I had thought so much about what the cover would look like, what it would be like to see the book on the shelf, but some steps surprised me. I had long phone calls with my agent, Michelle Tessler, and Anika–after having the characters live in my imagination for so long, it was an honor to have thoughtful talks about them, to have Anika and Michelle’s perspective on who they were, and how they developed. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy that. And then seeing my words typeset–that was really exciting. But even as I loved having my book in the world and giving readings, I ached to get back to writing. I can dress up and speak to a crowd–I love it, in fact–but I am most comfortable alone in my bathrobe, reading or writing. It’s really strange to answer questions about the solitary process of writing. I don’t really know how it all works–I’m still learning–and I feel I might jinx something. 

RHRC: You mentioned Bill Kittredge’s advice to “Move to where your best friend is and write your damn book.” What advice do you give to aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you had known, or done differently? 

A:
I think you have to love the writing, and have faith that someday there will be an agent and an editor who get what you’re trying to do, and who want to work with you. But it always comes back to the blank page, to a new morning in front of the computer screen. After a series of jobs that were somewhat related to publishing, I finally started working at jobs that didn’t use the same part of my brain as my writing. I knew it might take years to get published (and it did take years . . . ten years), so I wanted to enjoy myself in the meantime. I set up an office in my house, splurged on beautiful journals and a big bulletin board for mapping out story lines and tacking up stories from the New York Times that captured my interest. I tell students to take themselves, and their writing, seriously. I also read for hours every day. After years of trying to write for my professors or for my fellow students, I now aim to write a book that I want to read. 

RHRC: How does your reading life affect your writing life? 

A:
The other morning I woke up at about three a.m. I lay awake in the dark and wondered what the point of all my reading was. In the time I’ve spent lying around with books, I could have become a pediatrician–or a rocket scientist. And it’s not that I like to talk about what I’ve read: For the most part, my reading is completely selfish. I leave books half unread, and I was kicked out of my book club for never getting around to that month’s pick. I don’t keep up my virtual bookshelf, and I lost the little leather notebook that I bought to jot down what I’d read. 

It’s solitary, it’s compulsive, it’s expensive, and I tend to read a short story or novel and imagine that the fictional problems are my own, living half in Andre Dubus’s character’s sadness and half in my own life. But I can’t stop. There are times that I think my reading and writing life are truer than my real life, the one I have to brush my teeth for. Sometimes it’s hard to look closely at the fragile beauty that surrounds me. I’m scared that looking too closely will mess everything up. So I read, to re-wire my brain, to expand my sense of what is possible. So that morning, at three a.m., I picked up a short-story collection and began to read. I was hoping to find solace, to find inspiration, to find my way back to sleep. 

RHRC: How do you think writing–and reading–short stories is different from writing or reading a novel? 

A:
I guess if novels are like a long car ride, one in which you might see many glorious sights but might also run out of gas and be stuck in some strange town, short stories are like one perfect evening. There doesn’t have to be a moment wasted: The moon is out, the wine is chilling, and the steaks are on the grill. A story can do anything–a gunshot can pop, a memory from long ago can alter a kiss, a cow can have a point of view. Of course, any of these events can occur in a novel, but they happen with baggage. If your main character gets shot, you have to write her through her ambulance ride and convalescence. Writing a short story, I feel freer. As a reader, a story’s joys are manifold. I can read one before bed and still have time to mull it over before morning. When I begin reading a story, I never know if it will contain a lifetime (as many of Alice Munro’s and Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories do) or one defining moment. 

I think there is a kind of magic in the books that come to a reader. A few years ago, when I was experimenting with what a short story could do, I happened to open the New Yorker and find “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” by Jonathan Safran Foer. When I was learning to be sincere, I was humbled by Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter.” Helen Simpson inspired me to write about parenthood. And last week, a friend handed me Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, which is, in a word, stunning, and has inspired me to try to write about my time in Africa. 

RHRC: What are you working on now? 

A:
I’m working on a new novel. I’m still getting to know all the characters. There are two sisters with secrets from each other, there’s a new mother drinking whiskey with an elderly woman. There’s a murder, and a neighborhood trying to make sense of tragedy. I’ve been inspired by the recent work of Francine Prose, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Roxanna Robinson, Wally Lamb, Stewart O’Nan, and Kate Atkinson. 

Q: Would you share some of your favorite short story collections with us? 
A:
I would love to. Here are some of my favorites, in the order that I happened to read them. 

The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (I especially love “The Ice Palace.”) 
The Watch by Rick Bass 
Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver 
The Collected Stories of Grace Paley 
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
(I never stop thinking about the friendship in “The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”) 
Rock Springs by Richard Ford 
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff (My favorite stories are “Say Yes” and “Deep Kiss.”) 
Mary and O’Neill by Justin Cronin 
Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer 
A Distant Episode: The Selected Stories by Paul Bowles 
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders (especially “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz”) 
Interesting Women by Andrea Lee (especially “The Birthday Present”) 
Dusk and Other Stories by James Salter Emerald City by Jennifer Egan 
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 
A Stranger in this World by Kevin Canty 
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore 
Drown by Junot Díaz 
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson 
How It Was for Me by Andrew Sean Greer (also “The Islanders,” which was published in the New Yorker and is so lovely I have to reread it every few months) 
Remote Feed by David Gilbert 
Sam the Cat and Other Stories by Matthew Klam 
Carried Away: A Selection of Stories by Alice Munro (and later, “Deep Holes”) 
We Don’t Live Here Anymore by Andre Dubus (I can’t stop thinking about “Finding a Girl in America,” the last novella.) 
The Bridegroom by Ha Jin (especially “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town”) 
The Collected Stories of Richard Yates (especially “Oh Joseph, I’m So Tired”) 
Among the Missing by Dan Chaon 
Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger 
A Relative Stranger by Charles Baxter 
Getting a Life by Helen Simpson 
Female Trouble by Antonya Nelson (and later, “Shaun - trelle,” published in the New Yorker
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan 
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain (especially “Rêve Haitien”) 

Praise

Praise

“Pure delight . . . You’ll find it’s impossible to put this book down.”—Thisbe Nissen, author of Out of the Girls’ Room and Into the Night

“Dazzling . . . Amanda Eyre Ward proves once again that she knows just where to strike: the heart, the mind, and the funny bone.”—Michelle Richmond, bestselling author of No One You Know

“Wisecracking, whip-smart, and utterly beguiling, Amanda Eyre Ward’s Love Stories in This Town is one part Chekhov, one part Patsy Cline, all told with a confident, hip-cocking charm that’s completely her own.”—Justin Cronin, author of The Summer Guest

“Though the sharp-witted young women in these beautiful stories all live in the present day, their struggles for love and family are the stuff of classic literature.”—Vendela Vida, author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

“Looking at contemporary life through Ward’s eyes, you are suddenly aware of just how strange and mysterious our supposedly ordinary lives have become.”—Dan Chaon, author of Among the Missing

"Ward has a heart for women, as all of her previous work will attest; these stories underscore that fact. Where issues of domesticity and maternity are often dismissed or idealized in the cultural imagination, Ward here makes an argument for how very important such matters are with characters written so intricately and carefully that they are very nearly real themselves, in all their ambivalence and agony....This is Ward's gift: She makes writing about being human and female look easy while simultaneously inviting empathy for the female experience in these complicated times."—Austin Chronicle

“(Starred) In her first collection, novelist Ward (Forgive Me, 2008, etc.) gently and discreetly invites us into her characters’ lives…. Luminous work from a gifted writer.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“New mothers, young brides, jilted lovers, devoted wives. What roles do women choose, what paths do they take when falling in and out of love? Even if the way is clearly marked, it can still be full of unseen opportunities and obstacles, as Ward so adroitly demonstrates in a collection of 12 lustrous short stories....A mesmerizing, read-in-one-sitting foray into the complexities of contemporary love.”—Booklist

“Ward’s powerful first collection (after three novels) travels from Montana to Saudi Arabia, tackling love, terrorism and grave matters of the heart…. The way Ward balances ruefulness and hope is singularly impressive.”—Publishers Weekly
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Though the book’s title may seem romantic, it actually comes from a moment of extreme cynicism–a bartender telling Lola after her ex-boyfriend’s wedding that “There are no love stories in this town.” Why do you think Ward chose this as the title for the collection? Did reading these stories make you see love stories in a different light? 

2. If you have read Ward’s novels, did you find the tone or perspective of any of these stories familiar? How would you describe Ward’s writing style? Her characters? 

3. Fertility and pregnancy play a big role in a number of these stories. How do the women in these stories approach motherhood? Is it different from how their husbands seem to be approaching fatherhood? Do you see these issues representing larger themes about identity, change, or relationships? 

4. The realities of living in a post-9/11 world come up in several stories–in the narrator’s obsession with Cipro in “Should I Be Scared,” in Lola’s anxiety about living in Saudi Arabia in “Motherhood and Terrorism,” and in Casey’s grief in “The Way the Sky Changed.” How much are these stories about a specific moment in history, and how much do they speak to broader emotional issues? 

5. Ward’s stories take place in a variety of “towns”– in Texas, New York, Maine, Montana–and in San Fran cisco. How important is setting to the stories? What do you think they mean, in particular, to Lola, who lives in a number of quite different places? 

6. Like Lola and Emmett, the narrator of “Should I Be Scared?” and her husband have different interests–his in science, hers in the humanities. How does the clash between science and imagination factor into each story? How do you think it shapes each of their relationships? 7. Lola Wilkerson is at the center of six of the collection’s twelve stories. Why do you think Ward devotes so much of her collection to this character? What similarities do you see between the Lola stories and the preceding stories? What is different about these stories? 

7. Lola Wilkerson is at the center of six of the collection’s twelve stories. Why do you think Ward devotes so much of her collection to this character? What similarities do you see between the Lola stories and the preceding stories? What is different about these stories?

8. How do you think Lola’s relationship with her father impacts her relationship with Iain, and later with Emmett? 

9. Nan and Sissy are very different characters–and mothers. How do you see their personalities and parenting styles affecting their children? Do you think Lola is more similar to Nan, or is she influenced by both of them? 

10. From the ceramic consultant in “Should I Be Scared?” to Kimberly’s fashion design, from the Internet start-up in “Shakespeare.com” to Lola’s dramatic career shift, work is a feature of many of these stories. How would you describe the role work plays in the female characters’ lives? Is it different for the men? 

11. From snappy comebacks to a strong sense of the absurd, humor appears in many of Ward’s stories. How would you describe the way humor fits into her sensibility as a writer? What were some of your favorite funny lines or moments? 

12. Do you have a favorite story in the collection? Which story did you find the saddest? The most surprising? 


  • Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward
  • April 07, 2009
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $14.00
  • 9780812980110

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