The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy

James Purdy (1914-2009) is considered by some to be an authentic American genius, yet most "well-read" Americans haven't heard of him. Liveright is trying to change that by reissuing his works, starting with a massive compendium of his short stories.

In his idiosyncratic introduction, filmmaker John Waters calls these pieces "gracefully disquieting stories for the wicked." The New York Times's 2009 obituary described Purdy's writings as "savagely comic," a "psychic landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation." While such descriptions would be catnip for readers today, for a writer in the 1940s and '50s, publishing grotesque surreal gothic often resulted in obscurity.

His language and style are a bit old fashioned, his sentences sparse, condensed. His subject matter is a cross between Nathanael West (sans Hollywood) and Flannery O'Connor (sans religion): a diva's career is managed by a talking cat; a lonely man talks to himself every night in a bar's phone booth; an elderly eighth-grade teacher walks naked from her school to the house of a student from 20 years ago. In one of Purdy's most famous pieces, the 1956 novella "63: Dream Palace," which he originally self-published in an edition he designed, two teenage brothers move from the South to an abandoned building in Chicago. It touches on familiar Purdy themes--homosexuality and alienation--but closes with a shocking incident of fratricide.

As a fearless iconoclast, Purdy deserves our rediscovery. The seemingly simple yet compelling prose of The Complete Short Stories belies the haunting, slightly creepy stories that live within. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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