The Cost of Lunch, Etc.
Marge Piercy’s debut collection of short stories, The Cost of Lunch, Etc., brings us glimpses into the lives of everyday women moving through and making sense of their daily internal and external worlds. Keeping to the engaging, accessible language of Piercy’s novels, the collection spans decades of her writing along with a range of locations, ages, and emotional states of her protagonists. From the first-person account of hoarding (“Saving Mother from Herself“) to a girl’s narrative of sexual and spiritual discovery (“Going over Jordan“) to a recount of a past love affair (“The Easy Arrangement“) each story is a tangible, vivid snapshot in a varied and subtly curated gallery of work. Whether grappling with death, familial relationships, friendship, sex, illness, or religion, Piercy’s writing is as passionate, lucid, insightful, and thoughtfully alive as ever.
From Publishers Weekly:
With uncompromising emotional intensity, Piercy (Gone to Soldiers), the author of 17 novels, 17 volumes of poetry, and a memoir, captures the complex female experience in her debut short story collection. From the title story featuring an aspiring female poet who weighs the price of sex and poetry to a student’s disenchantment with her high school teacher (“Somebody Who Understands You”), Piercy maps the interior lives of women across generations, paying special attention to the socio-politcal environment that affects them. Her writing maintains a skillful detachment, limning moments of isolation between characters with palpable unease: “He is gentle. If he does not touch her with passion, neither does he hurt her. That is very important, not to be hurt.” Piercy, whose work is inseparable from her feminist politics, includes many characters (seven of whom are writers) who are suggestively autobiographical in their histories and musings, including a girl dying of rheumetic fever (“She’s Dying, He Said”), an anti-Vietnam War activist shuttling men to the Canadian border (“The Border”). Piercy is best at unraveling what she creates-turning an answer into a question in “Do You Love Me?,” and a soliloquy punctuated by silence in “Little Sister, Cat and Mouse.” Powerful in scope, the collection feels driven by an idea rather than a story, demonstrating Pierce’s understanding of how social constructs evolve in deeply personal ways.
Piercy’s latest short stories focus, as do her many novels, poetry collections, and earlier stories, on powerful female characters—women who are not always right, or sympathetic, or admirable, but definitely strong. The mother in “Saving Mother from Herself” is a hoarder coerced by her daughter into relinquishing her precious “collection” to the dump or local resale shops—and then changes the locks on her house, avoids her phone, and hits the yard-sale circuit with renewed vigor. A teenager in “Going over Jordan” stands up to her parents, gradually breaking away from the stifling confinement of their fundamentalist church. In “She’s Dying, He Said,” a woman looks back on the year in her childhood when she had German measles followed by rheumatic fever, and the doctor and her family gave her up for dead—except for her vigilant Jewish grandmother, who warded off the demons and nursed her back to health. Piercy homes in on her characters, mixing just the right amount of humor into her always insightful take on imperfect human relationships, in their many guises.
In short stories, the reader has only a few pages to identify with the protagonist. This means that effective short stories require strong characters, concise plots, and memorable settings. It also means that it can be difficult for a novelist to make the shift to short fiction. Happily, Marge Piercy has succeeded admirably with the twenty well-crafted tales in The Cost of Lunch, Etc., her first short story collection. A prolific novelist, poet, and memoirist, Piercy’s books include Woman on the Edge of Time, Gone to Soldiers, and The Hunger Moon. As in poetry, short fiction involves working within a limited space, and Piercy uses the skills she has earned as a poet to craft rich, succinct stories with quirky characters and layered imagery.
Marge Piercy is a great poet and this is clearly evident in the way she handles words. This is her first collection of short stories (although drawn from the work of a number of years) but the same economy of phrase, depth of emotion and touch of astringency you find in her poetry is here…
These stories bear the hallmark of the 70s feminist movement – not in terms of setting, there are stories set up to today – but in terms of the emotional tenet and confessional nature of the collection. Men do not on the whole come out of the stories very well but you do get to meet an amazing caste of vulnerable, gritty and generally fabulous women of all ages.
Many of the stories are funny, a few shocking, all are interesting and incredibly well-told. For a journey into the feminine psyche it is unparalleled.
May 4th, 2014
Many of Marge Piercy’s readers have been following her assorted writings across the span of their adult lives. We were young with her in the later 1960s and have snapped up, poked through, or otherwise taken note of her volumes ever since. So the notion that this new volume is a “debut collection” strikes an odd note. Then again, novelist and poet Piercy has not been doing much in the short-story vein all these decades. At points, The Cost of Lunch more than makes up for the lapse. This is a tough book, not by sentence structure or fancy words, but “tough” in the sense that her protagonists yield no ground, reject men after awhile, and deal sharply with women who are hopelessly male-oriented. Piercy’s favorite women are Piercy Women. And they are unforgiving.
Short stories have never been my thing. If something captures my “reading attention” right away, I don’t want it to stop, and I find short fiction frustrating for that reason. Armed with this prior mindset, I hunkered down reluctantly with Marge Piercy’s new book, a short story collection called “The Cost of Lunch, Etc.,” and prepared for disappointment. Well, I sure was wrong on this one. These stories entrance and satisfy at the highest level.
I recently read an article that described the initial screening for a new movie release. At the end, a young audience member stands and says, “You’ve just captured my life.” That’s just what Piercy does – and what a good short story can do – by capturing a quick-flash photo illuminating some act or thought that rings true in our own personal experience.
Piercy’s debut short-story collection heralds the beloved feminist writer’s return to fiction after a long hiatus. The stories, written in the fiercely honest style of her novels, follows everyway women attempting to make sense of thier world.
Praise for Marge Piercy:
“The author displays an old-fashioned narrative drive and a set of well-realized characters permitted to lead their own believably odd lives.“ —Newsday
“This reviewer knows no other writer with Piercy’s gifts for tracing the emotional route that two people take to a double bed, and the mental games and gambits each transacts there.“ —Chicago Tribune
“Marge Piercy is not just an author, she’s a cultural touchstone. Few writers in modern memory have sustained her passion, and skill, for creating stories of consequence.“ —Boston Globe
“What Piercy has that Danielle Steel, for example, does not is an ability to capture life’s complex texture, to chart shifting relationships and evolving consciousness within the context of political and economic realities she delineates with mordant matter-of-factness. Working within the venerable tradition of socially conscious fiction, she brings to it a feminist understanding of the impact such things as class and money have on personal interactions without ever losing sight of the crucial role played by individuals’ responses to those things.“ —Chicago Sun-Times
“As always, Piercy writes with high intelligence, love for the world, ethical passion and innate feminism.“ —Adrienne Rich
About Marge Piercy:
Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including the national best-sellers Gone to Soldiers, Braided Lives, The Longings of Women, and Woman on the Edge of Time; nineteen volumes of poetry, and a critically acclaimed memoir, Sleeping with Cats. Born in center-city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan, the recipient of four honorary doctorates, she has been a key player in many of the major progressive political battles of our time, including the anti-Vietnam War and women’s movements, and more recently an active participant in the resistance to the war in Iraq.
Publisher: PM Press
Format: Hardcover Size: 8 x 5
Page Count: 176