Joy: And 52 Other Very Short Stories

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Product Details

Counterpoint LLC
Publish Date
5.6 X 8.3 X 1.1 inches | 1.0 pounds

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About the Author

ERIN McGRAW, born and raised in Southern California, lived and taught for many years in the Midwest before retiring to rural Tennessee with her husband, poet Andrew Hudgins, and her dogs. She has written six previous books--three novels and three collections of stories--along with essays and occasional journalism. Find out more at


Praise for Joy

A The Millions Most Anticipated Book of the Month
A Big Other Most Anticipated Small Press Book of the Year

"Prolific novelist and short story writer Erin McGraw proves her mastery of short-form craft in this collection of 53 very short stories, each no more than a few pages. They provide a diverse array of slice-of-life vignettes about characters with vastly different lives, who are strung together by the universal messiness of their humanity." --Sarah Neilson, The Brooklyn Rail

"The perfect title to pick up this year . . . The stories in this collection are both profound and mundane . . . Leav[ing] you wondering how McGraw packs so much punch in such limited space." --Wendy J. Fox, Self

"In these quick, delightful reads, the Sewanee, Tennessee-based writer Erin McGraw imagines the lives of such characters as mothers, siblings, the drummer of a fading band, and the personal assistant to Patsy Cline. At turns poignant and hilarious, you might just read it all in one sitting." --CJ Lotz, Garden & Gun, A Book to Read This Month

"There's something immensely satisfying about a very short story (particularly one that bills itself as a 'very short story' rather than 'flash fiction'), and I'm looking forward to a whole collection of them . . . Based on the other stories I've read of McGraw's, I have high hopes for both humor and devastation." --Emily Temple, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"Erin McGraw pulls no punches in her new collection of microstories . . . By turns angry, disturbing, darkly funny, poignant, or tragic, each narrator claims the spotlight momentarily to tell a powerful story . . . The amount of emotional weight she is able to pack into such brief encounters leaves no doubt that Joy is a virtuoso performance." --Tina Chambers, Chapter 16

"Across fifty-three very short stories, McGraw deftly navigates the abbreviated form. Even those readers skeptical of flash fiction will find themselves enthralled by McGraw's work on the page: elegant, complex development of characters whose short narratives carry real emotional heft . . . McGraw's primary gifts, however, are depicting average people drawn into extraordinary circumstances and highlighting the extraordinary nature of otherwise average circumstances." --Annie Adams, The Sewanee Review

"Full of compulsively readable little stories that each feel developed beyond their few pages. Some are ironic or clever; others are poignant and wrenching; all of them are driven by McGraw's strong, confident sense of voice for her characters . . . The beauty of this book is in how McGraw makes us love them for all their human flaws and fragile hopes." --Chauna Craig, New York Journal of Books

"In McGraw's latest short story collection, a mother mourns the tragic loss of her child, a college student mocks the absurdity of a team-building exercise, and a man reckons with the truth about himself after taking a young boy's life. Each of the Sewanee-based author's 53 stories is only a few pages long but provides a searing look inside the story's narrator, striking an often darkly funny tone." --Kate Parrish, Nashville Lifestyles

"McGraw's fourth collection proves she's a master of the form . . . It is astonishing what she is able to conjure up in the span of a few pages . . . McGraw is wise and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with a seventh sense for the perfect turn of phrase . . . This quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw's stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature." --Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)

"How can stories this brief be so satisfying? . . . [McGraw] deals with the profound, the dire, the mundane, and the ridiculous, paying particular attention to relationships between parents and children, siblings, spouses, criminals and their victims. While some stories are meant purely to amuse, many are intense and beautiful . . . Fifty-three gems that demonstrate all the things a short story can do. Wow." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In this poignant and sweeping collection of short stories, McGraw paints a beautiful and multifaceted portrait of domestic life in modern America . . . The stories find humanity in every situation, no matter how unsympathetic. Readers will find themselves understanding adulterers and murderers, not for their destructive choices but for the greater sum of their lives--an impressive feat, considering the brevity of the format." --Booklist

"[A] collection of very short stories for reading on the train, in line at the supermarket, while walking down the street, at the dentist, or anywhere else you can jam a few paragraphs in. And just think: you'll be able to add 'read a short story' (or ten) to your list of completed tasks for the day. Fun!" --Emily Temple, Literary Hub

Praise for Better Food For A Better World

"With soaring grace and sizzling humor, Erin McGraw fuses the piercing irony of Jane Austen with the subversive, satiric charm of Miguel de Cervantes. Here is a writer who loves her people enough to expose their outrageous flaws and celebrate their wild failings. Here is a visionary who offers delight as the first gift and hilarity as a path to transcendence." --Melanie Rae Thon, author of The Good Samaritan Speaks

"Erin McGraw's latest book is a treasure. With her trademark élan and seamless storytelling, she manages to get to the very heart of the blessing and disaster that friendship, good intentions, and love can all be. Better Food for a Better World is a beautiful, funny, and haunting tale of who and where we are right now." --Bret Lott, author of Jewel and Dead Low Tide

"With each new book, Erin McGraw does something with her narratives I previously thought impossible. In Better Food for a Better World, she writes with great generosity about the struggle to be a good person; but, more importantly, she reveals how chaotic and hilarious the process can actually be. This is an expansive, beautiful novel that will rattle around in your heart and make it a better place." --Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

"McGraw's novel is a funny, memorable, sharp portrait of flawed and shifting love." --Nicole Sheets, Rock and Sling

"McGraw has a light hand with serious themes involving relationships and livelihood. She is deft with humor; her satire of green, aware living is funny without being snarky and is tempered by a generosity toward human foibles. Her characters are memorable, recognizable, quirky; the overweight contortionist Teeny Marteeny is a gem. McGraw is fresh and funny." --Publishers Weekly

"The latest offering from accomplished author McGraw depicts the delicate dance between business partners, longtime friends, and new lovers. Even the peripheral characters are uniquely memorable, and longtime readers will recognize McGraw's ability to offer intimate portraits of some remarkable relationships. Deeply insightful and heartfelt, Better Food for a Better World will appeal to fans of Anita Shreve, Karen White, and anyone interested in the quirks, shared loyalties, and not-so-hidden desires of three modern marriages." --Booklist

Praise for The Seamstress Of Hollywood Boulevard

"Beautifully written . . . [McGraw] crafts masterful sentences." --Los Angeles Times

"McGraw excels in her handling of ideas about American reinvention and European-flavored notions of class in Los Angeles, where a self-invented character understands that no one else can really be trusted. Her dialogue, especially between Nell and other tough women characters, is superb--surprising and essential." --Seattle Times

"Seamstress succeeds because McGraw never criticizes or romanticizes [the] story or ties it into too neat of a bow. She reconstructs it--and yes, embellishes it--winningly, knots and all." --USA Today

"The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard is rich and vibrant with historical accuracy and female fortitude." --San Francisco Chronicle

"McGraw . . . grounds the story in just enough historical detail to keep it from floating away, and she brings to life a newborn California where every flapper drinking gin in a speak-easy hides a previous life in Wichita, Abilene or Dodge City." --Columbus Dispatch

"McGraw breaks the mold for the obstinate turn-of-the-century female protagonist, but Nell has to compete with McGraw's meticulously researched surroundings for pride of place. Nell's Los Angeles is a frontier town crossed with Tolstoy's Russia . . . The sedulous craftsmanship of McGraw's writing, like the neat stitches of her protagonist, makes each development fall out naturally in service to the story." --A.V. Club

"Yes, McGraw reminds her readers why we read novels. She is a fearless guide with a clear-eyed awareness that not only is storytelling a kind of piecing of fabric together, but that life itself unfolds as story and is interpreted in storytelling.." --Raleigh (NC) News & Observer

"Inspired by her grandmother's story, McGraw captures the lonely rigor of life on the plains and the invigorating lure of reinvention." --Publishers Weekly

"A meticulous evocation of a time, a place, and an absolutely unforgettable woman. I loved every word." --Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"At the heart of this beautifully written, brilliantly plotted novel is McGraw's heroine--the talented, spirited, adventurous Nell. From the opening sentence I would have followed her anywhere. The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard is an irresistible and deeply compelling portrait of a young woman sewing her way to a new life." --Margot Livesey, author of The Hidden Machinery

Praise for The Good Life: Stories

"Most stories about aging hippies play them for laughs, but McGraw finds the feelings of sadness and loss in a man who sees principle in a ponytail. McGraw draws her small portraits with little of the studied, artists'-colony smugness that taints many literary writers' descriptions of the lives of ordinary people. In its place there is humor and compassion, and an understanding that diminished expectations might be better than shattered dreams." --John Schwartz, The New York Times

"McGraw refreshingly avoids the predictable, contemporary stance of moral ambiguity without sinking into an earlier era's condescension. People are vain and envious and greedy, and so are the people who judge them. McGraw finds some rich material in that modern-day version of the revival meeting the reality television makeover show." --San Francisco Chronicle

"McGraw infiltrates the inner lives of characters just when they're realizing--sometimes with a startling jolt, other times with hapless resignation--that the things they had once dreamed of for themselves have either failed to pass or failed to manifest in quite the way they feel they ought to have . . . these stories show a true gift for creating resonance from seemingly insignificant moments, and that's no small thing." --Seattle Weekly

"Almost giddyingly entertaining, McGraw's stories slip in their graver implications under cover of dazzling dialogue and plump metaphors." --Columbus Dispatch

"In McGraw we have a writer confident enough in her gifts to let the characters behave as they will without authorial interference. McGraw loves their warts as much as their virtues, carrying forth a tradition of storytelling set in motion by Carver and Flannery O'Connor before him. If they could speak now they would undoubtedly shout McGraw's praises from the rooftops. The Good Life is a bold, unerringly satisfying collection." --The (Charlotte, NC) News & Observer

"McGraw's pitch-perfect dialogue and artful closeups on the telling, trying details of ordinary lives deliver stories that are easy to read but hard to forget." --Publishers Weekly

"At once laugh-out-loud funny and utterly serious, these stories explore life's profundity through its quotidian details. A marvelous, and memorable, collection." --Claire Messud, author of New York Times bestselling The Burning Girl

"Erin McGraw has a consistently winning stance in her wide-ranging stories--she is insightful, funny, deeply humane. I love the way her mind works." --Amy Hempel, author of The Dog of the Marriage

"I love these stories about nice normal people trying--and failing--to cling to their fondest delusions. Erin McGraw brings her wonderful characters from dark into light with deftness, humor, and incredible kindness." --Molly Giles, author of All the Wrong Places

Praise for The Baby Tree

"McGraw's stunning clarity resonates long after the last page is turned." --Ploughshares

"I have long been a fan of Erin McGraw's fine fiction, and her splendid new novel has only deepened my devotion. With seemingly effortless skill, The Baby Tree brings together complex issues of faith and morality in a plot that is by turns funny and serious, romantic and menacing, but always suspenseful. I only wish her feisty heroine, Pastor Kate, lived next door." --Margot Livesey, author of The Hidden Machinery

"The heroine of The Baby Tree is a woman who's a Methodist minister. She is also smart, funny, sexy, exhausted, vulnerable--and in the worst six months of her marriage to an impossibly good man. And that's just the beginning of her troubles in this splendid novel. In the skillful hands of Erin McGraw, every character, every moment is alive. This is news from an unexplored part of modern America." --John Casey, author of Compass Rose

Praise for Lies Of The Saints

A Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick

"For a slim collection, Lies of the Saints feels gratifyingly substantial." --The New York Times Book Review

"McGraw's deceptively simple prose turns each story over to her characters. Her loosely woven narration--light but with great tensile strength--lets their voices come through unimpeded; as in Flannery O'Connor's stories, the only irony is dramatic irony, brought about by the actions of the characters themselves. Sometimes, though, McGraw homes in for a stinging image, or impales one of her characters with a phrase . . . Lies of the Saints takes its title from three linked stories that give us the history of a family--father, mother, five children, a granddaughter--over the course of thirty years. This marvelous loaves-and-fishes achievement is repeated in microcosm on nearly every page of the book. What is unsaid matters no less than what is said. Erin McGraw is a writer who knows how to weave the two together, lightly." --Ploughshares

"McGraw (Bodies at Sea) is a master creator of oddball yet always believable characters. This collection of quirky narratives teems with endearing misfits and the slightly skewed communication with which people slide past each other's meanings." --Publishers Weekly

"McGraw offers nine short stories about relationships between men and women in contemporary suburban America. The characters are misfits, alcoholics, people in unhappy marriages, people with worries about parents and children; the characters and situations are authentic, and the stories are both melancholic and humorous." --Library Journal

"A first collection that displays a sure hand and an even voice busily at work documenting the struggles of regular people trying to lead ordinary lives. At her best, McGraw encourages us to see sainthood in its human context, relevant to the most mundane experiences. Two of these nine stories have appeared in The Atlantic, others in small magazines, and most of them concern the stuff of domestic fiction--divorce, alcoholism, children . . . Without rancor, these poignant moral tales gently go beyond most family fiction; they would merit our attention even if that were their only distinction." --Kirkus Reviews

"Erin McGraw writes with charm and sweet irony about the foibles of misfits and alcoholics and the formerly married--lost children of the middle class who seem baffled by what has befallen them. Lies of the Saints is a joy to read, a shrewd, melancholy, and frequently hilarious collection of short stories." --Ron Hansen, author of The Kid

"Lies of the Saints is a terrific collection--its authenticity and charm kept taking me by surprise. These are wonderful, effortless-seeming stories about men and women in uneasy embrace. We traverse a lot more experience than seems possible in so few pages." --Rosellen Brown, author of The Lake on Fire

Praise for Bodies At Sea

"Carefully crafted, finely tuned, the 11 short stories in this collection often examine subtle shifts in family relationships." --Publishers Weekly

"McGraw hold the world in wild and compassionate regard. One of her stories ends with a daughter wishing to say to her mother, 'You have been dearly loved.' A reader feels the muscles of that love flexing in her sentence, sees the power of that love burning in her characters. McGraw lifts up before our eyes hopeless cases, the lame of heart and soul, and redeems them all with an eloquent and triumphant gaiety." --Scott Russell Sanders, author of Divine Animal