Cover image for Esther stories
Esther stories
Orner, Peter.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2001]

Physical Description:
227 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"A mariner original."
Initials etched on a dining-room table, Lockeport, Nova Scotia -- Thumbs -- In the walls -- Early November -- Pile of clothes -- Papa Gino's -- On a bridge over the Homochitto -- Cousin Tuck's -- Toe Poes -- Shoe story -- Thursday night at the gopher hole, April 1992 -- Country Road G -- At the Motel Rainbow -- Sitting Theodore -- At Horseneck Beach -- Sarah -- Walt Kaplan reads Hiroshima, March 1947 -- Melba Kuperschmid returns -- Birth of a son-in-law -- At the Conrad Hilton -- Awnings, bedspreads, combed yarns -- High priest at the gates -- In the dark -- Atlantic City -- Providence -- Michigan City, Indiana -- The raft -- The house on Lunt Avenue -- Daughters -- My father in an elevator with Anita Fanska, August 1976 -- Seymour -- The moraine on the lake -- Esther stories -- The waters.
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Peter Orner explores the impact of life's essential moments, those brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt his characters. The discovery of a crime, a theatrical performance in a small town, or the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner's vivid scenarios. Esther Stories is divided into four distinct parts, each with its own momentum. The first half of the book concerns the lives of unrelated strangers, and the second introduces two Jewish families, one on the East Coast, the other in the Midwest.
These stories cover considerable geographic ground -- from Nova Scotia to Mississippi, from Fall River, Massachusetts, to Chicago -- but the real territory is emotional. As the narrator of the title story tries to piece together his late aunt Esther's life from the fragments of stories told about her, he remembers what she told him in a dark kitchen when he was a child: "You pay for everything. When you think you're getting something for free -- remember this-- you'll pay later." All thirty-two wide-ranging pieces -- funny or sorrowful, urban or rural, simple or innovative -- are welcome additions to the art of the story.

Author Notes

He was born in chicago in 1968. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he taught in a rural Catholic mission in Africa, received a law degree in Boston & practiced there as a juvenile public defender & then enrolled in the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. He lectured in law & English in Prague until joining the English department at Miami University in Ohio, where he now lives.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Innovative, original and fresh as a breath of perfumed summer air, these 34 stories capture pure emotion so vividly they tremble with contained life. Orner, who was published in The Best American Short Stories 2001 and has received a Pushcart Prize, creates characters so real that readers sense they could not only recognize them on the street, but also see into their troubled hearts. The tales collected here cover a lot of geographical ground - one group is set in Fall River, Mass., others in Chicago, while some veer away as far as Nova Scotia and Mississippi - but Orner teaches us that people everywhere share the same sorrows and joys. "Cousin Tuck's" is a heartbreaking tale of two misfits, Tito and Nadine, who find each other again. "[S]ome nights he'd take her home. Most guys gave him no grief - hell, a warm body's a warm body. In Boston in February, there's guys who sleep with frozen squirrel corpses." In "Atlantic City," a nurse comes home at lunch to find her husband dead and can remember him only on the beach in Atlantic City years before, in an almost unbearably bittersweet reverie. In the even shorter "Shoe Story," which is reminiscent of the late Richard Brautigan, a man recalls a overheard long ago, which ended with a woman throwing a pair of shoes out of the window into the street just by his restaurant table. "[T]hose shoes were angels dispatched to rescue ourselves from our own grease-soaked and burbling-over hearts." This extraordinarily fine collection should establish Orner as a new star of American short fiction. Author tour. (Nov. 2). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

In this debut collection of impeccably crafted short stories, Orner examines the small moments that resonate throughout a lifetime. In the first half, many of the characters find themselves unexpectedly impacted by the deaths of those around them: a high school student is drawn to the remote location where a teacher was murdered; the removal of his deceased tenant's clothes prompts a landlord to examine the dissolution of his marriage; and the feud between two competing one-man shows about Edgar Allan Poe leads to the suicide of one of the actors. In the second half, Orner details the lives of two Jewish families. The Kaplans, from a middle-class Massachusetts's mill town, lead a quietly unremarkable life, and Orner perfectly captures the everyday heartbreaks and triumphs that comprise such a lifetime. The stories about the Burmans, a prosperous Chicago family, all lead inexorably to the title story, where a young man tries to piece together his enigmatic aunt's life and her descent into madness. Readers will enjoy discovering this talented and insightful writer. Brendan Dowling

Library Journal Review

This affecting debut collection presents 34 stories, many no more than a page or two long, that span America. Though the physical territory covered is broad, the emotional probing of the characters is the high point here. The book is divided into four parts: the first two concern the lives of unrelated strangers; the last two present two assimilated Jewish families, one on the East Coast, the other in the Midwest. In the title story, the narrator tries to form a picture of his dead Aunt Esther with fragments of anecdotes: "I study an old high school picture of Esther and find it difficult to believe that the portly, angry, hollow-eyed woman who lived in my grandparents' basement throughout the 1980s is this person who looks so much like Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: seductive, sweaty, a little nasty, a little pouty." Recommended for most libraries. Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Initials Etched on a Dining-Room Table, Lockeport, Nova Scotia The girl was young when she did it, and she didnt live there. This was in 1962. She was eighteen. Shed been hired to tidy the place. It was three, maybe four years before anybody noticed. The letters were so small, and they always ate in the kitchen. And when they did discover them, she was already gone to Halifax. By that time the girl had a reputation to escape from. So when they put two and two together and figured out it was she that did it, they werent surprised. Of course shed be the one to do something like this, they said shameless girl, not shocking at all.A cod fisherman, a captain, lived in the house with his wife, one of the original Locke mansions on Gurden Street overlooking the harbor. They never had children, but dust collects nonetheless in a house so huge. The girl had never been in a place that grand. At least thats what they told each other when they found her letters. RGL. That shed wanted to leave her mark in the world, something that would last, something that would stay. The family still lived in town, her father and brothers sold hardware, so they could have held somebody accountable for the damage if theyd wanted to. But the captain and his wife talked it over and decided not to mention it to anyone. Not that they approved Lord no. It was defacement of property. Vandalism. Of course it was an heirloom; it had belonged to her mothers mother, a burnished mahogany drop-leaf built in York in 1844. They could never approve. But they were quiet people; they kept to themselves in the hard times, and even in the good times they held their distance. Besides, what could anybody do about it now? What was done was done. Still, that didnt mean the captains wife didnt watch more carefully over the other girls who came to clean, and it didnt mean the captain didnt sometimes think of her sugar breath, that morning, the one out of a thousand when he was home and slept late hed startled her in the kitchen. Captain Adelbert! I didnt have any idea you were home, me banging the pots down here to wake the dead. His only intention was to touch her sweater (Lucy was out, still teaching school then), but he couldnt stop and kissed her, her hands at her sides. She didnt resist or desire, and that had made him a fool for years.Yet over the longer years when the fish became scarcer, when theyd long since failed their vow to fill that house with children, when the silences between them sometimes lasted hours, when the captains wife no longer paced the house, waiting for him, or word of him an odd thing. They still talked about the letters. RGL became a part of the table that had always been too good to eat on, as important as the deep swirls carved at the top of the legs. She. The simple fact of her once among them, among their things, dusting, opening closet doors, tracing her finger along the frames of the paintings in the front room. Taking a needle she must have used a nee Excerpted from Esther Stories by Peter Orner All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1. What Remains
Initials Etched on a Dining-Room Table, Lockeport, Nova Scotiap. 3
Thumbsp. 6
In the Wallsp. 14
Early Novemberp. 17
Pile of Clothesp. 19
Papa Gino'sp. 26
On a Bridge over the Homochittop. 30
2. The Famous
Cousin Tuck'sp. 37
Two Poesp. 46
Shoe Storyp. 56
Thursday Night at the Gopher Hole, April 1992p. 58
County Road Gp. 66
At the Motel Rainbowp. 70
Sitting Theodorep. 81
3. Fall River Marriage
At Horseneck Beachp. 93
Sarahp. 94
Walt Kaplan Reads Hiroshima, March 1947p. 97
Melba Kuperschmid Returnsp. 104
Birth of a Son-in-Lawp. 113
At the Conrad Hiltonp. 118
Awnings, Bedspreads, Combed Yarnsp. 124
High Priest at the Gatesp. 131
In the Darkp. 133
Atlantic Cityp. 136
Providencep. 140
4. The Waters
Michigan City, Indianap. 153
The Raftp. 155
The House on Lunt Avenuep. 160
Daughtersp. 170
My Father in an Elevator with Anita Fanska, August 1976p. 179
Seymourp. 182
The Moraine on the Lakep. 184
Esther Storiesp. 186
The Watersp. 217
Acknowledgmentsp. 229