No but seriously, read this book.
I was first introduced to ZZ Packer in my advanced fiction workshop this past semester through her story, “Dayward,” which was published in the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” issue. That issue is always considered by most writers to be, if nothing less delicate, bullshit. After reading Packer’s story, I began to see why many talented and never-before-recognized-in-quite-so-prestigious-a-way writers believe this to be so; my class hated this story, and while I liked parts of it, it did not come close to the feelings of awe I had developed for other stories we had previously read, such as Andre Dubus’s “The Fat Girl,” Ray Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and Antonya’s Nelson’s “Naked Ladies.” “Dayward” focuses on two slaves (a young brother and sister) running away from their plantation. That’s it. It’s a strange choice for the New Yorker, especially in order to launch a writer whose work is anything but this deceptively straightforward.
I just finished Packer’s debut story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. It blew me away. These eight stories have such power, because of the simplicity that Packer manages with an eye for the most miniscule of detail and the most subtle of character traits. The first story that really smacked me across the face with it’s apparently straight-forward, no-nonsense approach, was “Our Lady of Peace,” which follows a young-ish woman as she attempts to teach at an inner city school. The title story, “Speaking in Tongues,” and “Doris Is Coming” were equally as mind-blowing, but it was “The Ant of the Self” that really took my breath away. Just the sheer concept (a high school student reluctantly drives his fuck-up of a father to D.C. so that he can sell illegally-procured tropical birds to attendees of the march of the Nation of Islam) is incredible conceptual-wise, but the ending - oh, Jesus Christ that ending - made me want to bang my head against the wall in writerly jealousy because it is So. Effing. Good. I won’t give it away here (BECAUSE IT’S THAT EFFING GOOD), but just trust me when I say that ZZ Packer is worth more than the New Yorker would have you believe.
Now, seriously - go read this book. You’ll die of literary starvation otherwise.