Cover image for Ecstatic cahoots : fifty short stories
Ecstatic cahoots : fifty short stories
Dybek, Stuart, 1942- author.
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Physical Description:
195 pages ; 21 cm
A collection of fifty original mini-stories explores the need to achieve ecstatic self-transcendence as well as trust between lovers, friends, family, and strangers.
Misterioso -- The start of something -- Drive -- I never told this to anyone -- Fridge -- Midwife -- Confession -- The kiss -- Córdoba -- Ordinary nudes -- Current -- A confluence of doors -- Hometown -- Ant -- Ransom -- Marvelous encounters of my life -- The Samaritan -- Fantasy -- Transaction -- Flu -- Swing -- Between -- Arf -- Fingerprints -- Mole man -- Bruise -- Ravenswood -- Brisket -- Alms -- Here comes the sun -- Coat -- Fedora -- Goodwill -- Dark ages -- Wash -- Vista di Mare -- Voyeur of rain -- Naked -- Tea ceremony -- The question -- Transients welcome -- Flies -- Aria -- Belly button -- Ice -- The story of mist -- Happy ending -- Fiction -- Inland sea -- Pink ocean.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

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In this remarkable collection of bite-size stories, Stuart Dybek, one of our most prodigious writers, explores the human appetite for rapture and for trust. With fervent intensity and sly wit, he gives each tale his signature mix of characters--some almost ghostly, others vividly real--who live in worlds tinged with surreal potential. There are crazed nuns hijacking streetcars, eerie adventures across frozen ponds, and a boy who is visited by a miniature bride and groom every night in his uncle's doomsday compound. Whether they are about a simple transaction, a brave inquiry, a difficult negotiation, or shared bliss, the stories in Ecstatic Cahoots target the friction between our need for ecstatic self-transcendence and our passionate longing for trust between lovers, friends, family, and even strangers.
Call it micro-fiction or mini-fiction, flash fiction or short shorts. Whatever the label, the marvelous encounters here are marked by puzzlement, anguish, and conspiratorial high spirits. In this thrilling collection, Stuart Dybek has once again re-envisioned the possibilities of fiction, creating myriad human situations that fold endlessly upon each other, his crackling prose drawing out the strange, the intimate, and the mysterious elements in each.

Author Notes

Stuart Dybek is the author of four other books of fiction,including Paper Lantern , published simultaneously with this volume, as well as two collections of poetry. The recipient of many prizes and awards--including the PEN/Malamud Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writers' Award, and four O. Henry Awards--he is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Florida Keys.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The ripple effect of Dybek's ravishing stories of grit and transcendence flows from Chicago, his hometown and creative epicenter, around the world, holding readers spellbound. After earning major awards (a MacArthur fellowship, the PEN/Malamud Prize, four O. Henry Prizes) for his three previous short story collections and two books of poetry, Dybek steps forward, 11 years after his last book of fiction, I Sailed with Magellan (2003), with two virtuoso story collections. The intriguing title, Ecstatic Cahoots, from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, provides an enticing theme for Dybek to improvise upon with intrepid imagination in a great archipelago of stories, some startlingly compact, others mesmerizingly expansive, most involving risky sexual liaisons. Dybek's women are daring, secretive, and elusive; his men are enthralled, wary, and lonely. Rain, snow, ice, and mist complicate trysts and amplify ardor. Lyrical and erotic tales of doomed love alternate with fabulist stories saturated with metaphor and meaning and featuring clothing with strange powers, a mistreated boy's relationship with a pair of tiny newlyweds with frosting on their feet, a flying streetcar, and a man adrift at sea who encounters a gigantic puzzle of floating doors. Dybek writes of desire and mystery, ecstasy and terror with rhapsodic intensity and sensuous provocation.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A roller coaster of realist and fantastical scenes, slice-of-life character sketches, and page-long fables, Dybek's collection of flash fiction jostles from story to story like a streamlined zephyr. Much of the book feels like snippets of conversation, or fights overheard through an apartment wall. The daughter with her mother's bellowing voice who sings only in dreams; the bumbling supervisor lured into paying for a night with his employee; the woman who wants to shave her boyfriend: "?'Sounds nice,' he said, rather than tell her there was no way in hell she was getting near him with a razor." Dybek switches easily from humor to sadness, from the sensual to the surreal. A young man must leave his girlfriend to find his way home through a blizzard in "Cordoba." In "Ant," a lovely day for two lovers is pulled apart by an ant that manages to cart the man away after he remembers a story read to him in childhood by his uncle. In "A Confluence of Doors," a castaway on the ocean comes upon a veritable island of locked, knocking doors. In "Ice," a couple brave out onto a frozen pond, the location of a past wedding party where the bride and groom drowned, their ghostly figures still visible under the sheet of ice. Dybek uses all his creative muscle in these brief stories, which are both elusive and precise. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Two new simultaneously published volumes by PEN/Malamud & O. Henry Award winner Dybek are a reason to celebrate. Taking its title from The Great Gatsby, in the voice of Nick Carraway ("First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we'd been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time"), Ecstatic Cahoots can be loosely described as flash fiction, whereas Paper Lantern contains narratives of a more conventional short story length. The "short short" pieces in Ecstatic Cahoots were written over several decades and are collected here for the first time. Some are no more than a sentence or two and feel more like aphorisms or jokes (good ones, fortunately). Here, for example, is "Misterioso" in full: " 'You're going to leave your watch on?' 'You're leaving on your cross?' " These lines then recur in a longer piece called "Marvelous Encounters of My Life." Other works in this collection, by virtue of their lyric intensity and dreamlike associations, remind us that Dybek started off as a poet (Brass Knuckles, 1979). Cahoots is a marvelous word that comes up again in Paper Lantern as the name of an oddball theatrical troupe in the story "Tosca," which, like the opera of the same name, features an execution by firing squad, a dramatic opener for these stories, whose characters often seem to experience life on an operatic scale. The title of one, "Oceanic," refers not only to a woman's sexual climax through kissing but also to a dream motif involving a lifeguard and a white horse on a deserted beach. Another story "writ large" is "The Caller," which features a fellow named Rafael who spray paints oversize portraits of his lady loves on the walls of his small Chicago apartment but refuses to create a similar artwork on commission from a crazy rich lady from the suburbs who rides into the barrio on her Harley. Verdict These two collections share many themes and settings (most prominently Dybek's native Chicago), which makes reading them together a great opportunity for readers to get to know the author. However, Ecstatic Cahoots on its own presents such a mixed bag that it never gains sufficient momentum for the reader to keep turning the pages, while Paper Lantern starts with gunshots and never lets go.-Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Misterioso "You're going to leave your watch on?" "You're leaving on your cross?" The Start of Something Subway grates, steaming tamale carts, charcoal braziers roasting chestnuts, the breaths of the pedestrians outpacing stalled traffic, the chimneys Gil can't see from the window of the airline bus--all plume in the frigid air. It's cold enough for Gil to wear, for the first and only time, the salt-and-pepper woolen trousers he bought at an estate sale last summer. He'd stopped on a whim when he saw the sale sign, an excuse to tour a mansion that looked as if it once could have belonged to The Great Gatsby 's Tom Buchanan before he'd moved from Chicago's North Shore to Long Island "in a fashion," Fitzgerald wrote, "that rather took your breath away ... he'd brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest." Perhaps the deceased had left only debts, for the heirs, haughty with grief, were selling off the furnishings. Those there to buy spoke in subdued voices as if to seem less like scavengers. Gil browsed the sunlit rooms with no intention of buying anything, then in an upstairs bedroom he found an open cedar wardrobe filled with old, handsomely made men's clothes. He selected the trousers and held them up before a walnut-framed full-length mirror, and told himself he might wear them for cross-country skiing even though he hadn't skied in years. Later, when he tried them on at home, they fit as though they'd been made for him, causing Gil to wonder who the man who'd worn them had been. In one of the pockets there was an Italian coin dated 1921, and Gil thought it might be worth something to a collector. He kept it in a cuff-link box with spare buttons, a St. Christopher medal, a class ring, and cuff links he never wore. Even after he'd had the trousers dry-cleaned they smelled faintly of cedar. The airline bus has nearly reached downtown when the woman in the seat across the aisle leans toward Gil and asks, "Are those lined?" "Pardon?" he says. "Are those lined? They're beautiful but they look itchy." Wings of dark glossy hair and a darker fur collar frame her narrow face. Her smile appears too broad for her, but attractive all the same. "Partially," he says. "Knee-length?" "Not quite. Actually, they are a little itchy, but they're warm." "They look right out of the Jazz Age. They've got that drape. I love anything from the twenties--music, furniture, the writers." "Some of my favorite writers, all right," Gil says. "They still read so alive! Like that newly liberated, modern world was just yesterday." It sounds like she's speaking in quotes and Gil smiles as if to agree. Her hairstyle and the coat she's bundled in both suggest another time. The coat has a certain Goodwill-rack look that exempts a woman from the stigma of wearing fur. Gil has no idea what kind of fur it is. It matches the luster of her hair. He has the vague feeling they've met before, which makes talking to her effortless, but Gil doesn't say so for fear it would sound like a line. She'd know a man would remember meeting someone who looked like her. "Where'd you find them?" she asks. "At a kind of glorified garage sale." "I didn't think they were new. When designers try to bring back a style they never quite get it right." "They're the real deal all right, complete with little buttons for suspenders. I probably should be wearing suspenders." "Not even half lined, though, huh? Bet it feels good to get them off." She smiles again as if surprised by what she has just said. "You sure have an eye for clothes," Gil says. "Don't I, though?" Outside, snow settles on Chicago like a veil, as if it is the same veil of snow that was floating to earth earlier in the day when he boarded the plane in Minneapolis, returning from his father's funeral. The airline bus has stalled again in traffic. She's turned away, staring out the window. He doesn't know her name, has yet to ask where she's traveling from, if she lives in the city or is only visiting, let alone the facts of her personal life, but all the questions are already in motion between them. Why not end here, without answers? Aren't there chance meetings in every life that don't play out, stories that seem meant to remain ghostly, as faint and fleeting as the reflection of a face on the window of a bus? Beyond her face, snow swirls through steam from exhausts and manholes. Why not for this one time let beginning suffice, rather than insist on what's to come: the trip they'll take, before they know enough about each other, to Italy; those scenes in her apartment when she'll model her finds from vintage stores, fashions from the past he'll strip from her present body? Her name is Bea. She'll say they were fated to meet. They'll play at being reincarnated lovers from the First World War. Sometimes he's a soldier who died in the trenches, sometimes a young trumpet player poisoned by bathtub gin. Scene added to scene, fabrication to fabrication, until a year has passed and for a last time he visits her apartment in the Art Deco building on Dearborn with its curved, glowing glass brick windows. There's an out-of-place store on the ground floor that sells trophies--an inordinate number of them for bowling. Its burglar alarm, prone to going off after hours, as if the defeated have come by night to steal the prizes they can never win, is clanging again. She's been doing coke and tells him that in a dream she realized she's been left with two choices, one of which is to kill him. She laughs too gaily when she says it and he doesn't ask what the other choice is. She's mentioned that she's been "in touch" with her ex-boyfriend--a man who over nine years, with time-outs for affairs, has come and gone at will in her life, a relationship it took her a while to reveal fully because, she explained, she didn't want to give the impression she has a taste for "damaged men." If she's implying it's a relationship that redefines her, she has a point. "Does he know about me?" Gil asked. "I'd never tell him you exist," she said, her eyes suddenly anxious and her voice dropping to a whisper as if an omnipotent master might overhear. "In touch" means Gil has noticed bruises when he hikes her skirt to kiss the curve of her bottom. She'll have asked for them, he knows, she'll have begged, "Leave your mark." The boyfriend is an importer, she says. He's a connected guy whose family owns a chain of pizza parlors. He carries a gun, which she says makes her feel safe, though what she really means is that she finds it thrilling, and when she disappears into her bedroom Gil isn't sure whether she'll emerge armed or wearing a chemise from the thirties that she's found at some flea market. No matter how often he strips the past from her body, she finds a way to wear it again. His impulse is to let himself out, but he doesn't want her--and for that matter, doesn't want himself--to be left with a final image of him running for his life. An escape might make it seem as if the choice in her dream were justified. He doesn't want to admit she's made him afraid, and so he sits and waits for her to reappear. The heirs were selling off the furnishings. Gil browsed the sunlit rooms with no intention of buying anything, but in an upstairs bedroom he found an open wardrobe smelling of cedar. He held the trousers up before a full-length mirror that like everything else in the house wore a price, everything except the clothes--for those he'd have to bargain. His reflection, gazing back, fogged behind layers of dust, appeared ghostly. The trousers looked as if with a little tailoring they'd fit, and maybe he could wear them for cross-country skiing. How could he have known then that he was only at the start of something? Copyright © 2014 by Stuart Dybek Excerpted from Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories by Stuart Dybek 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.