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Phone calls from the dead : stories /
by Wendy Brenner.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books, 2001.
description
226 p.
ISBN
1565122453
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books, 2001.
isbn
1565122453
catalogue key
4611852
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Wendy Brenner's first collection of stories, Large Animals in Everyday Life, was the winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award. Her stories have appeared in the Oxford American, Mississippi Review, Five Points, and Story, among others. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and has won the Henfield Transatlantic Review Award. She is a contributing writer for the Oxford American and is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
The Anomalist His Mission His mission was simple: to destabilize scienti'c paradigms by assembling a multivolume collection of every scienti'c anomaly ever recorded-an Encyclopedia of Anomalies, the most comprehensive, exhaustively researched reference text of its kind. Okay, so maybe it wasn't simple-but it could be accomplished. It was not an experiment, in which the outcome was uncertain, but a task. He loved tasks. He loved the gut satisfaction of collecting, going from empty to full, knowing you hadn't missed anything. Unlike his colleagues at the corporate labs where he interned as a student, he never complained about working on the cash-cow research projects commissioned to prove what was already known, the endless recording of data in closed white rooms, no credit, no contact, no ground-breaking results. Teachers and girlfriends had always told him he was obsessive, "though not interestingly so," his college girlfriend, a poet, said. "Your imagination is so literal, it's not even an imagination," she told him. "It's like, a dresser or something." "But you knew I was a marine biology major when we started going out," he said. "Scientists have to be logical." "Scientists are supposed to love competition, discovery, not just data, data, data," she said, and then dumped him for his art-major roommate, a natural extrovert who had a high-paying museum curator job waiting for him upon graduation, because, he bragged, "I interview like a motherfucker." She had gotten on the anomalist's nerves, anyway, always announcing everything that was happening as it was happening, the way old people did at the movies-so that he secretly began to think of her as PA Girl. Like when they were lying entwined, she would say, "We're so close right now." After they ate she exclaimed, "We're done!" "We are having so much fun," she'd say, and he'd think, Yeah, I was, until the pa came on . . . She wasn't so unusual, he knew; people seemed to love narrating their own lives, an urge he had never understood. So much in the universe still cried out for examination, explanation, or at least some mention, he didn't see why anyone would waste time pointing out the obvious. He had begun, as a kind of hobby, clipping or copying items he found in the newspaper or in the old issues of Scienti'c American and Nature and Sky and Telescope he used for his term papers, accounts of anomalies that had been observed and recorded but never explained by science. Electric Trees in Chicago, 1897. Stone-Swallowing by Seals. Unusual Twilight Phenomena Over Ethiopia. MacFarlane's Bear: Hybrid or Freak? He used the clippings as bookmarks, stuffed them in envelopes, and ?nally began pasting them into spiral notebooks, organized by topic. Spontaneous Combustion in Non-Human Species. Does the Sun Have a Seldom-Seen Companion Star? Even the most unscienti'c, self-involved person would ?nd these stories fascinating, he thought. PA Girl could say whatever she liked, he knew he was not, at his core, boring. After graduation he stayed on at the labs, occasionally moonlighting selling algae as a nutritional supplement door to door (ride the green wave to freedom!, an indestructible bumper sticker on his Toyota still read), but his anomaly collection had taken on a life of its own, growing even when he neglected it. Clippings came to him unsolicited from around the country and world, from the most distant of acquaintances-though he could not recall having mentioned his hobby to so many people. He supposed the urge to collect accounts of freak occurrences was primal and universal, but people seemed especially eager for him to do it, including little notes with their clippings like "This made me think of you!" and "Your kind of thing!" Of course, much of what they sent him did not constitute legitimate anomalies. Most items had logical explanations, easily attributable to the laws of nature and physics. Mexican Wolf-Boy, for example, had curiosity va
Flap Copy
These stories are sneaky, beautiful, deeply eccentric and brilliant. (Kevin Canty) A bodybuilder is charged with superhuman energy and an ability to make lightbulbs explode. A father tries to communicate with his dead son via a tape recorder. A thirty something women comes to understand her life through the experience of a German shepherd. Four ornery squirrels, tied together by their tails barely maintain their sanity. Ten stories in all, the highly original Phone Calls from the Dead pulses with meaning. Alive and odd and needy, the characters in Wendy Brenner's stories grapple with the extraordinary and ordinary, searching for answers from unlikely sources, striving to connect with each other - or with something greater than themselves. Amidst a world of technological, natural, and possibly supernatural phenomena, her characters try to make sense of the troubled, blundering, and occasionally exhilarating relationships between man and technology, us and the Other Side. Named one of twenty-five fiction writers to watch by Writer's Digest magazine, Wendy Brenner is one of the most original voices writing today. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel and no matter how alien the terrain, Brenner is one of the most original voices writing today. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel and no matter how alien the terrain, Brenner always returns us to a place full of heart, both profoundly familiar and profoundly moving.
Flap Copy
These stories are sneaky, beautiful, deeply eccentric and brilliant. (Kevin Canty)A bodybuilder is charged with superhuman energy and an ability to make lightbulbs explode. A father tries to communicate with his dead son via a tape recorder. A thirty something women comes to understand her life through the experience of a German shepherd. Four ornery squirrels, tied together by their tails barely maintain their sanity.Ten stories in all, the highly original Phone Calls from the Dead pulses with meaning. Alive and odd and needy, the characters in Wendy Brenner's stories grapple with the extraordinary and ordinary, searching for answers from unlikely sources, striving to connect with each other - or with something greater than themselves. Amidst a world of technological, natural, and possibly supernatural phenomena, her characters try to make sense of the troubled, blundering, and occasionally exhilarating relationships between man and technology, us and the Other Side.Named one of twenty-five fiction writers to watch by Writer's Digest magazine, Wendy Brenner is one of the most original voices writing today. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel and no matter how alien the terrain, Brenner is one of the most original voices writing today. Yet no matter how far afield her characters may travel and no matter how alien the terrain, Brenner always returns us to a place full of heart, both profoundly familiar and profoundly moving.
First Chapter
The Anomalist His Mission His mission was simple: to destabilize scienti?c paradigms by assembling a multivolume collection of every scienti?c anomaly ever recorded-an Encyclopedia of Anomalies, the most comprehensive, exhaustively researched reference text of its kind. Okay, so maybe it wasn't simple-but it could be accomplished. It was not an experiment, in which the outcome was uncertain, but a task. He loved tasks. He loved the gut satisfaction of collecting, going from empty to full, knowing you hadn't missed anything. Unlike his colleagues at the corporate labs where he interned as a student, he never complained about working on the cash-cow research projects commissioned to prove what was already known, the endless recording of data in closed white rooms, no credit, no contact, no ground-breaking results. Teachers and girlfriends had always told him he was obsessive, "though not interestingly so," his college girlfriend, a poet, said. "Your imagination is so literal, it's not even an imagination," she told him. "It's like, a dresser or something." "But you knew I was a marine biology major when we started going out," he said. "Scientists have to be logical." "Scientists are supposed to love competition, discovery, not just data, data, data," she said, and then dumped him for his art-major roommate, a natural extrovert who had a high-paying museum curator job waiting for him upon graduation, because, he bragged, "I interview like a motherfucker." She had gotten on the anomalist's nerves, anyway, always announcing everything that was happening as it was happening, the way old people did at the movies-so that he secretly began to think of her as PA Girl. Like when they were lying entwined, she would say, "We're so close right now." After they ate she exclaimed, "We're done!" "We are having so much fun," she'd say, and he'd think, Yeah, I was, until the pa came on . . . She wasn't so unusual, he knew; people seemed to love narrating their own lives, an urge he had never understood. So much in the universe still cried out for examination, explanation, or at least some mention, he didn't see why anyone would waste time pointing out the obvious. He had begun, as a kind of hobby, clipping or copying items he found in the newspaper or in the old issues of Scienti?c American and Nature and Sky and Telescope he used for his term papers, accounts of anomalies that had been observed and recorded but never explained by science. Electric Trees in Chicago, 1897. Stone-Swallowing by Seals. Unusual Twilight Phenomena Over Ethiopia. MacFarlane's Bear: Hybrid or Freak? He used the clippings as bookmarks, stuffed them in envelopes, and ?nally began pasting them into spiral notebooks, organized by topic. Spontaneous Combustion in Non-Human Species. Does the Sun Have a Seldom-Seen Companion Star? Even the most unscienti?c, self-involved person would ?nd these stories fascinating, he thought. PA Girl could say whatever she liked, he knew he was not,
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-09-10:
The narrator of "The Anomalist" one of the 10 stories gathered in Brenner's quirkily deadpan second collection (after Large Animals in Everyday Life) explains that he has remained in Florida because he once saw a zoo plaque that promised buffalo sightings "if you're at the right place at the right time." Unfortunately, he never seems to be where he's meant to be, and he has little left save the hope that great, galumphing beasts will lumber through the foreground of his life, changing him irrevocably. Like the short-circuited phone system in "Awareness," which unwittingly places calls to itself, Brenner's characters are protectively self-sufficient; like the operators who answer these phantom calls, they repeatedly experience the disappointment of an empty dial tone. Immunized against sentimentality by great doses of reason, characters have lover's quarrels that are "showdown[s] about beauty." Intellectual effort keeps Brenner's protagonists from falling apart entirely, but again and again they are undone by small gestures (a child's grasp, a sticky kiss) emotional depth charges that cannot be denied. The stories end with tiny, unexpected epiphanies: a girl lamenting the false promise of Snoopy, a man waiting for his dead son to pick up the phone, a man rocked in the arms of a golden-hearted hooker. Brenner's witty, empathetic voice animates a tawdry, urban Florida filled with the lost and the lonely, stale lives refreshed briefly by fleeting moments of passion. (Sept.) Forecast: Brenner, a contributing writer for the Oxford American, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for her first collection. Readers familiar with her work will snap up Phone Calls from the Dead, and strong reviews and an author tour should broaden her reach. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-08-03:
In her second collection, Brenner, whose Large Animals in Everyday Life won the Flannery O'Connor Award, showcases her ability to conjure up bizarre situations and circumstances in the lives of ordinary people. A scientist learns to enjoy human relationships while compiling an encyclopedia of anomalies, while a high school student grosses out friends with her uncle's nipple, which she claims to have in an envelope. A father who mourns his son believes it's possible to communicate with him via tape recorder; four squirrels, tied together for a long time, are separated by a vet so they can live separately; and a very perceptive boy has a relationship with an unborn friend. Brenner is a gifted chronicler of these often poor and downtrodden characters, whose lives are marked by the oddity of the everyday world around them.Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, June 2001
Booklist, July 2001
Library Journal, August 2001
Publishers Weekly, September 2001
Boston Globe, October 2001
Chicago Tribune, November 2001
Washington Post, December 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
A bodybuilder is charged with superhuman energy and an ability to make lightbulbs explode. A grieving father tries to communicate with his dead son via a tape recorder. A high school girl claims to have her uncle's nipple in an envelope. A thirtysomething woman is fired from her dead-end job at Manpower and comes to understand her life through the experience of a German shepherd. Four ornery squirrels, tied together by their tails, struggle to maintain their sanity. Ten stories in all, the highly original PHONE CALLS FROM THE DEAD pulses with meaning. Alive and odd and needy, the characters in Wendy Brenner's stories grapple with the extraordinary and the ordinary, searching for answers from unlikely sources, striving to connect with each other and with something greater than themselves. Amidst a world of technological, natural, and possibly supernatural phenomena, they struggle with the most human of losses and longings. Named one of twenty-five fiction writers to watch by Writer's Digest (along with Allegra Goodman, Jhumpa Lahiri, and William Gay), Brenner has been paving a new path through American fiction ever since her first collection, Large Animals in Everyday Life. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, described that collection as "chock-full of pitch-perfect dialogue and dead-on descriptions . . . intoxicatingly original." In PHONE CALLS FROM THE DEAD, the stories do just that, and then go a step farther. Whether it moves you to uncontrollable laughter or to tears, you won't soon forget Wendy Brenner's work.
Main Description
A bodybuilder is charged with superhuman energy and an ability to make lightbulbs explode. A grieving father tries to communicate with his dead son via a tape recorder. A high school girl claims to have her uncle's nipple in an envelope. A thirtysomething woman is fired from her dead-end job at Manpower and comes to understand her life through the experience of a German shepherd. Four ornery squirrels, tied together by their tails, struggle to maintain their sanity.Ten stories in all, the highly original PHONE CALLS FROM THE DEAD pulses with meaning. Alive and odd and needy, the characters in Wendy Brenner's stories grapple with the extraordinary and the ordinary, searching for answers from unlikely sources, striving to connect with each other and with something greater than themselves. Amidst a world of technological, natural, and possibly supernatural phenomena, they struggle with the most human of losses and longings.Named one of twenty-five fiction writers to watch by Writer's Digest (along with Allegra Goodman, Jhumpa Lahiri, and William Gay), Brenner has been paving a new path through American fiction ever since her first collection, Large Animals in Everyday Life. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, described that collection as "chock-full of pitch-perfect dialogue and dead-on descriptions . . . intoxicatingly original." In PHONE CALLS FROM THE DEAD, the stories do just that, and then go a step farther. Whether it moves you to uncontrollable laughter or to tears, you won't soon forget Wendy Brenner's work.
Publisher Fact Sheet
Winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award. Ten hilarious & left-of-center stories filled with characters grappling with the ordinary & the extraordinary.
Table of Contents
The Anomalistp. 1
Nipplep. 33
The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommunicationp. 39
Four Squirrelsp. 53
Are We Almost Therep. 69
The Cantankerous Judgep. 99
Mr. Puniversep. 127
Mr. Meekp. 149
Awarenessp. 175
Remnants of Earlp. 203
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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