The People I Know


Title Details

Pages: 176

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 10/15/2009

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3420-2

List Price: $21.95

The People I Know


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The People I Know is a collection of nine stories, told by characters who hover at the edge of life. Whether it's Lorne, perched on a sofa as a wedding party swirls around him, or the elderly Mrs. R of "Morning at the Beach," imagining a career in crime as she sits on the front porch of a Miami hotel, these are people oddly accustomed to the sidelines of their worlds.

Nancy Zafris's characters do not so much hurdle their barriers as contemplate them with varying degrees of humor, regret, and fanciful expectation. Gazing out of his window at a horizon of crushed cars, Bonner Junior fantasizes about working at an I.M. Pei office building instead of at John Bonner and Son Metal Shredders; at the same time, his job allows him to amuse his friends with grisly, embellished stories of human shreddings and wild dogs. In "Meeting in Tokyo," a businessman examines his own attraction and aversion to conformity after taking a young secretary to a "love hotel." For Wendy, born with a strong nose and a Baltic name, cosmetic surgery has brought acceptance but also boredom. Suffering little "deaths of feeling" with each success, she flirts with disaster, with anything that will make her heartbeat "go up to 75 or more." Grace, in "Grace's Reply," prefers to deal with reality through illusion; she blames her son's death on a Navy intelligence operation and sends Pampers to an imaginary grandson.

Ranging from the kiddie bleachers of television's "Uncle Sylvester Show" to the upholstered seats of a Tokyo coffee shop, from a Navy recruitment office to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, these stories enliven the common places of our world. Sad, yet rarely defeated, Nancy Zafris's characters toe the line and sometimes manage to cross it.

The recipient of a Flannery O'Connor Award, Zafris debuts here with a collection of nine stories narrated by characters whose lives take place around those of other people. In 'Morning at the Beach,' an elderly vacationer sits placidly on her Miami hotel porch, plotting wild crimes. 'Final Weeks' is a woman's wistful recollection of a kindred soul she met years ago in Japan, an oppressed mother of three who had never been kissed. In 'The Metal Shredders' we are privy to the surprising and desperate thoughts of a man who runs an automobile junkyard. 'From Where I Sit,' the stand-out in this collection, is told in the voice of a teenager forced to wear leg braces. The story reverberates with the particular wit and unease of a girl who suspects 'that warm regard and gratitude were my province, and that the more alarming passions would not be mine.' Frequently funny, these tales are threaded with a dark despair. Zafris has a keen ear for a great variety of voices.

Publishers Weekly

A lively, entertaining and often unexpectedly moving collection . . . Zafris brings to life an offbeat but recognizable world of misfits, freaks and outsiders. Her central characters—like the homely young woman in 'Cosmetic Surgery' and the physically handicapped little girl in 'From Where I Sit'—are wistful but keen-eyed observers of a 'normal' world whose follies they recognize but which they long to join.

—Greg Johnson, New York Times Book Review

A funny, touching collection of the world's odd ducks. . . . Nancy Zafris is a . . . winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Spend a little time with the quirky and marginal and just plain strange characters who people her first collection, and you'll start to understand why.

—Louise Kennedy, Boston Globe

Comedy and pain coexist in exquisite tension in the best of the stories in this collection. . . . Every year, as surely as a basketball scandal, a number of gifted young writers emerge in print. It is hard to think of one whose diversity of subject matter equals Nancy Zafris.

—Betsy Willeford, St. Petersburg Times

What lifts these tales is the tenderness and wit with which the author unfolds the layers of these people. She reads life through a variety of voices, bravely facing what hides at the inner core while revealing the passions that have guided them in their choices.

—Robert Merritt, Richmond Times-Dispatch


Ohioana Book Award, Ohioana Library Association

About the Author/Editor

NANCY ZAFRIS is the author of two novels, Lucky Strike and The Metal Shredders. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and she is Fiction Editor of the Kenyon Review.