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Esther Stories

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  275 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Peter Orner explores the impact of life’s essential moments, those brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt his characters. The discovery of a crime, a theatrical performance in a small town, or the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner’s vivid scenarios. Esther Stories is divided into four distinct parts, each with its own momentum. Th ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 2nd 2001 by Mariner Books (first published 2001)
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Jul 20, 2013 Anna added it
I bought this book at the 50 cents sale in the library. Of interest, there is an inscription inside: "Brenda & Ken, hope you enjoy these short stories. The author is Ted's step-brother. Always, Anne & Ted. January 6, 2002." January 6th being my birthday and this book being gifted to Brenda & Ken by the wife of Peter Orner's step-brother... well, it's kind of cool! And the fact that I got if for 50 cents :)
The point is, they are really short, and addictive! You just want to keep goin
This collection has been reissued with a foreword by Marilynne Robinson. I'm not sure it needed one, the stories and depth of the characters speak for themselves. Orner is that rare writer who can do it all--write beautiful prose without being affected, begin and end well, capture wonderful moments--original and banal--create spot-on dialog, but most of all, his powerful human observation zeroes in on excruciatingly perceptive human characteristics. "I've had enough of my own blind sides to know ...more
Re-reading ESTHER STORIES (2001) more than a decade after its original publication, I continue to be astonished by the tender worldliness, quiet passion, understated wisdom, and luminous poetry of Orner's first collection. So does Marilynne Robinson, who provides an insightful "Foreword" to the new paperback edition. These 34 precise and economical stories are dense with details (names, places, dates, smells, tastes), scattered with things--especially with books and photographs, with love's debr ...more
I loved this book. I loved how spare the writing is, and the way a single crucial moment, a turning point in a character's life, a reflection or a memory could illuminate so much about the characters and the meaning of their lives. I rarely read books again, but I'm already thinking I'd like to re-read this one...
It's really tempting to lump Orner in with the grand tradition of Chicago writers from Algren to Bellow to Dybek and so forth, but what the hell do I know about Chicago? It's frozen solid at the moment, which was how I experienced it in 1986 when I was sent to book camp at Great Mistakes on the shitty shore of Lake Michigan and haven't been back since. But Orner's writing really does remind me of Nelson Algren, a writer who doesn't get read the way he used to, which is a shame, because his work ...more
Christoph Fischer
"Esther Stories" by Peter Orner is a marvellous compilation of short stories.
The first parts are a short and seemingly unconnected selection of stories. They were mostly amazing pieces of literature with characters that got me caring and feeling with them more than some entire novels achieve to do. Small snippets of every day life, beautifully told and with a distinct and captivating voice.

As I gave up to look for the connecting thread between the pieces I began to enjoy the stories even more. W
Fun Fact: Peter Orner is the cartoonist Eric Orner's younger brother. Must run in the family, huh. This is an exceptional collection of short stories about family, memory, love, pain, forgiveness, marriage, life and death - all the important stuff. Each story is exquisitely crafted and finely honed with exceptionally true-to-life dialogue (especially in the Jewish idiom). I recommend taking your time and reading them slowly to let them really sink in. One story in here, "The Raft," was made into ...more
So many good stories in this collection, but it's the accumulation of the telling, of all the slippery remembered moments that stays with me. The author shifts points of view and works with memory in such an interesting way that I'll be reading this one again. It's hard to believe that this is Orner's first book because it is so wise, so expansively historic.

(Note: Like some of the other reviewers, I tried to read this a few times before, but wasn't able to get into it at first. This time I gav
These are deceptively simple stories - some interconnecting - of the inner workings of people. I enjoyed the connecting stories of two families, but the standalone stories were the winners for me.
A thrown over husband wonders back into his old home while the teenage babysitter watches in fascinated bewilderment. Two Edgar Allen Poe impersonators haunt a sleepy town without acknowledging the other exists until a catastrophic confrontation. A landlord lacks the will to take care of his properties
There are over 30 stories in this book, broken into four parts. The first and second parts are unrelated stories, none more than ten pages long, and most much shorter. I was not drawn by any of the stories in the first part - What Remains - but found those in the second part - The Famous - more enjoyable. I was immediately drawn into the first story in part two - Cousin Tuck's - which concerned a small town with a bar where the known pool shark taught the regulars some tricks and two troubled so ...more
Depending on your perspective, Peter Orner's debut, Esther Stories, is either a story collection, or one-half story collection and two novellas-in-stories. The "novellas" - Fall River Marriage and The Waters - are the strongest part of the book, and especially the former. Fall River Marriage tells, in fifty brisk pages, the story of Walt and Sarah Kaplan and their forty years together, from their quickie out-of-state marriage (with Sarah three months pregnant at the time) to Walt's early death, ...more
Sort of a paradox here for me. These are lovely stories for the most part, and exceptionally well-crafted, but somehow it still took me two weeks to read a relatively short book. I can't figure out why I was so able to keep putting it down, but am inclined to conclude it was more about me than about the book.

There is a feeling of 1940's theatrical history here, I think. These are the stories or ordinary people doing everyday things. On occasion exceptional events result from these unexceptional
Craig Barner
Esther Stories is a poignant book. "Yearning" and "delicate" are key emotions. Orner's characters are often suffering and miserable, but he treats them with sympathy and unflinching honesty. One piece about a woman who returns to her home town after 20 years of marriage but without her husband is particularly powerful. She is the target of gossip, but finds in the town a kind of shelter she never had in marriage.

There is a strong sense of place to the stories. Specific streets in cities and town
This was my second attempt to read Peter Orner's much-recommended book. The first time, I read two stories, and made it to page 13. When I picked it up again, I realized it hadn't made any impression on me. Nada. This time, I read a dozen stories and made it to page 69. And, once again, nothing. It fails my 33-page test, which has been a reliable standard for me. It's also given me a new policy: two strikes, and you're out. If I make two sincere attempts to read a book and it still doesn't engag ...more
To risk alienating those of you who don't watch British TV, Peter Orner's sharp and glowing Esther Stories are Tardis-like: just as Doctor Who's police-box spacecraft appears small from the outside and is cavernous within, so these stories, often only several pages, contain depths and layers far larger than the sum of their words. While all great "flash fiction" conveys far more than its brevity implies, Orner does something different, something quieter and more resonant. How he does it may rema ...more
Patrick Faller
I loved Orner's story, "The Raft" and fell just as deeply in love with his "Thumbs", "Pile of Clothes", and the title story of this fractured yet piercing collection. This is an interesting structured collection; four sections, the first two linked by theme ("What Remains" and "The Famous", respectively), the third a novella-in-stories surrounding a couple's strained relationship, and the fourth a semi-autobiographical exploration of the relationships between a grandfather, his son, and his gran ...more
Collections of stories of characters mostly in the midwest, especially Chicago and Rogers Park; people and families that seem so familiar in places we know and love, full of history and love, heartache and death, just quiet moments of lives and life remembered. I loved the names and memories and smiled so often just imagining all of them. It's a library book and i never want to return it.
this book is pure "miserablism." it depicts miserable situations just for sake of being miserable.

the book is a collection of SHORT stories. they are really short, any where from 2-5 pages. you don't get to learn much about the characters, you just see them go from one depressing situation to another.

the first part of the book is about dead people. more specifically, what happens when people deal with the physical belongings of a recently deceased person.

the second part is about unattractive p
The stories are in 4 parts. The first 2 parts were ok for me. I admire Orner's descriptive writing, but didn't totally get what was going on sometimes. Part 3 was a series of stories about a Jewish family from the east coast. Part 4 was a series of stories about a Jewish family in the Chicago area. Those stories were very engaging, humorous at times, tragic at times. Moving portrayals of families, their love for each other and their disfunctional aspects.

In the section about the family in Chica
Anne Sanow
A terrific collection. Most of these stories are quite short--sometimes just a few pages--and some are related through characters, while others stand alone. Those taking up several generations of two extended Jewish families provide a cumulative historical sweep when taken together; individually they keep an effective tight focus that I think would have been lost in a novel. The other pieces often capture something of memory, or an extrapolation of a horrifying event in ways not quite predictabl ...more
Mar 29, 2014 Gili added it
Star ratings seem way too trite for books as painfully beautiful as this. Same with Stephanie Vaughn's stories.
John Mcdonough
May 16, 2015 John Mcdonough is currently reading it
My buddy is hopping to take some workshops with this guy and told me to check him out. In this collection, there are brief glimpses into the past that, in places reveal a larger picture, and in others just a snapshot of a life. I particularly like Orner's use of the Midwest landscape.

His story about two Poe impersonators in a small Midwest town made me chuckle. His segmented history of a North Chicago family had me looking at my own history for artifacts I'd never suspect could have such import
Stacey Palevsky
I really wanted to like these stories, but with the exception of one, they were pretty boring. (I admittedly didn't read every single one, but I read about half, and was too bored to plow through the others, so perhaps there are a few more gems in this book that I bypassed...)
Excellent writing and fantastic story collection!
These, often very short, stories are beautifully written and evocative. The book is divided into four distinct sections. The final part of the book introduces characters that will be revisited by Orner in Love and Shame and Love.
Margaret M.
Oct 13, 2012 Margaret M. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Eclectic fiction readers
Recommended to Margaret M. by: self
Shelves: fiction
Odd, compelling, a deep melancholy feeling from stories in the 1st and 2nd sections; section 3 with intertwining family stories made me think of my own family stories and how they would be lost when we all pass on.
A beautifully crafted collection of mostly interlocking stories. Several are quiet glimpses, lasting only a couple of pages, but there are some longer, more intricate stories as well. A very strong set of stories.
This was a great book of short stories. They were true literature and I really had to be on my game to get into them...not a beach read by any means. But, they were beautiful and tragic stories about it...
Nancy Lin
If you ever meet me in the street, remind me that I love short stories and this book is a great example why.
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Peter Orner was born in Chicago and is the author of three novels: Esther Stories (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown, 2006), and his most recent, Love and Shame and Love (Little, Brown, 2011) which was recently called epic by Daniel Handler, "...epic like Gilgamesh, epic like a guitar solo." (Orner has since bought Gilgamesh and is enjoying it.) Love and ...more
More about Peter Orner...
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