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Elbow Room

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  1,172 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
A beautiful collection of short stories that explores blacks and whites today, Elbow Room is alive with warmth and humor. Bold and very real, these twelve stories examine a world we all know but find difficult to define.

Whether a story dashes the bravado of young street toughs or pierces through the self-deception of a failed preacher, challenges the audacity of a killer o
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 12th 1986 by Fawcett (first published October 12th 1977)
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Community Reviews

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Oct 22, 2007 Brie rated it really liked it
This book includes one of my favorite quotations ever.
"I think that love must be the ability to suspend one's intelligence for the sake of something. At the basis of love therefore must live imagination."
This is a really amazing collection of short stories, highly recommended.
John Vanderslice
Apr 24, 2016 John Vanderslice rated it really liked it
A lifetime ago I attended the University of Virginia and took a creative writing class from James Alan McPherson. He was a profoundly intelligent as he was drastically shy. He did not seem comfortable at all in acting as teacher, and though the class went perfectly well I don't recall a lot of laughter; from anyone. His most recent book at that point was Elbow Room; it was a few years old by then and he seemed to have stopped writing altogether, despite the acclaim the book had received (along w ...more
Jul 11, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This collection of stories won the Pulitzer Prize, yet James Alan McPherson doesn't get nearly the attention he deserves. The stories in Elbow Room are as relevant today as when the collection was first published in the early 1970's. McPherson is one of the few writers whose stories depict black and white characters intersecting and interacting--the world of his stories is not the world of the dominant culture, nor is it racially segregated.... his stories take place in the intersections between ...more
Collections of short stories by James Alan McPherson - some humorous, some serious and very realistic.

I really like the following stories:

"Why I Like Country Music" - everyone has a childhood story like this!

"Silver Bullet" - generational differences

"The Faithful" - about the neighborhood barbershop and changing times

"Problems of Art" - about an old widow and a car accident, had to read the ending twice to get it - but worth it!

"The Story of a Scar" - meeting a victim of domestic abuse in a doct
May 27, 2010 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Extremely well written, but very traditional. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for something so straightforward. The first story was lovely, but over the course of the collection I became bored. Which is really a shame, because the language is pretty masterful. But it has that sort of Updike-y, New Yorker-y feel, just no surprises at all. The final story pushed things forward a bit, so I appreciated that one, but by that time I was ready to be done.
Aug 15, 2007 Leslie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: suckas for short stories
Shelves: stories
This was the first book I ever picked up by James Alan McPherson. Now, I've marked all of his other stuff "to read." Oh, and, more specifically, I recall being struck by the barber shop in "The Faithful" (can still see it now) and "Just Enough for the City" overall. Others too... but my mind is going...
Beautifully written. Some stories really touched my soul.
Christopher MacMillan
This was an all right collection of short stories from James Alan McPherson, which I probably would have enjoyed a lot more upon its original publication in the 1970s. In Elbow Room, we are shown a series of tales about ordinary African Americans in the years following when the Civil Rights Movement shattered what it meant to be black in America. It was an era when both black and white people were looking for a way to see how African Americans fit into society given their new freedom, and McPher ...more
Dec 05, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it
Shelves: pulitzer
Elbow room won the Pulitzer in 1978 and is a collection of short stories that McPherson wrote that focused on the black community. McPherson is an excellent short story writer and as is the case with all the other short story authors I've read they have a particularly somber tone to them. Most of the stories take place in the Chicago area and many highlight the differences between the people brought up in Chicago and those from the south. From an historical context they were written following th ...more
Jan 31, 2015 Kim rated it it was amazing
I first read Elbow Room in 1989. I found it while I was working at a bookstore in 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. I skimmed through it during my lunch break and it intrigued me, so I bought it that same day. I am so glad I did. Elbow Room is pure brilliance. James Alan McPherson is a master of the written word and the art of short fiction.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves a good short story or who writes short fiction.
Kofi Adisa
Jun 24, 2014 Kofi Adisa rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite collections. Definitely old-school and periodical; however, every story is so tightly written that it'll embarrass you if you think you can write better stories.

I have read several of these stories again and again. JAM is like Flannery O'Connor, you just see so much more with every read.
Tracy Shapley
Aug 28, 2010 Tracy Shapley rated it it was ok
Shelves: pulitzer
When Isaw that the Pulitzer prize winning author James Alan McPherson was currently teaching at the school Imay attend in the fall (the University of Iowa), Idecided it was time I got around to reading Elbow Room. It had been on the to-be-read shelf for years, mostly because it's a collection of short stories - and I'm not generally a huge fan of short stories.

Ican't really say that there was a particular story in this collection that stood out to me, or that Ifound particularly interesting or w
Scott Cox
It has been many years since I read this 1978 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories by Georgia author James Alan Mcphearson. However I recall that the stories deal primarily with race, religion, and cultural struggles. This is probably a collection worth re-reading.
Paul Jellinek
Aug 27, 2014 Paul Jellinek rated it liked it
I heard one of his stories on tape (chosen by Updike and read by McPherson himself) and was sufficiently impressed to buy this collection of his stories, but unfortunately none of them rose to the same level. I believe it did get the National Book Award, though.
Jan 21, 2014 nicki rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved these stories especially elbow room, I love that he doesn't give us strictly good or bad characters he gives us real people struggling with real problems, and instead of giving simple solutions, he gives us hard conflicts and leaves the solutions ambiguous and for the reader to figure out. My favorite was "A Loaf of Bread". Pure genius no wonder it won the Pulitzer.
Feb 03, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it
A collection of short stories exploring black life in transition in many different ways. Stories are great in that each leaves you thinking but they are all humorous and entertaining at the same time.
Jan 04, 2009 Geeta added it
Shelves: readagain
I started with the last story, following a reference in a Charles Baxter essay. Now that I've pulled the book off my shelf, I figure I might as well read it. So far, the writing feels dated, in the sense the stories a very much of their time and rooted in a specific social consciousness. This doesn't bother me, but I think some readers might feel excluded or like the stories require too much work. I'm thinking of title story specifically, which has a interesting narrative structure, that deliber ...more
This book of short stories had a wonderful collection of tales. I enjoyed some and loved others. One, the story which supplied the name for the collection made me both laugh and cry ... at the same time. With each story, McPherson created a vivid picture of the place and people. He used a variety of techniques from what one might consider traditional short story style to a commentary on a situation from a public and private commentary of the main character to a document of a court testimony to a ...more
Doris Raines
Mar 27, 2016 Doris Raines rated it really liked it
Great. Book.
Aug 21, 2015 Tezeta rated it it was amazing
Read this.
Roxanne Russell
Jan 22, 2013 Roxanne Russell rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories from 1975 introduced me to the regional prejudices within the black community of the period. Each story highlights a person's heritage as Southern, Northern, Eastern or Western as significant part of character or personality. The stories I enjoyed the most: "Why I Like Country Music" & "The Story of a Scar." A couple of stories, waxing philosophical, seemed self-indulgent: "Just Enough for the City" and "Elbow Room."
Leanne Clegg
Sep 02, 2014 Leanne Clegg rated it really liked it
Those that know me well know that I am on a quest to read all books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. This book was next in line, and it has been one of my absolute favourites. Whilst I undeniably love the novel over short stories, this collection really helped me better understand African American, male fiction in period between Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Be prepared to laugh. Be prepared to cry.
Aug 05, 2015 Michael rated it it was ok
Didn't like more than two stories. A difficult narrative voice and time capsule-y and not in a good way.
There are 12 stories here. My favorites were A loaf of bread, The story of a dead man, Just enough for the city, A sense of story, and Elbow room. I assigned each story a rating 1-5 and the average rating came out to 3.167; hence three stars.
Feb 03, 2012 Stasia rated it it was ok
Shelves: 05-short-stories
I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't come through for me. I never really felt like the stories ended, just that they kind of stopped arbitrarily. And though some of the characters stuck with me, I never really enjoyed reading any of their stories. I'm not sure what it was exactly, I just wasn't into it.
Aug 31, 2013 Vanessa rated it really liked it
It was my second time reading this Pulitzer Prize-winning book by McPherson, who teaches at the Iowa Writers Workshop. He's a brilliant writer. I enjoyed the stories. While the characters were interesting, for some reason they didn't resonate with me. That's why I didn't give it five stars.
Mar 09, 2009 Marissa rated it it was amazing
It is amazing.
Any writer would be happy to do half of what McPherson does in the title story.
Not easy, but worth your time, patience and care.

Brilliant. And it makes me sad how many people refuse to engage in the complexities here, who get defensive and wary...

Jan 22, 2008 Nicole rated it liked it
And yet another book I have to read for my Intro to Literary Studies class...

So, I finished this book tonight. It was interesting to say the least. It's not one of my favorites, but I didn't dislike it either. Each story was... odd. Is it because I'm white?
May 19, 2016 Mark rated it it was ok
2.5 Stars.
Brian G. Fay
Oct 21, 2013 Brian G. Fay rated it really liked it
I read this back in college and graduate school because I had somehow seen a snippet of "Why I Like Country Music" which remains one of my favorite short stories ever. Great, great stuff.

Where did I hear about that story? Wish I could remember.
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Tackling the Puli...: Elbow Room (James McPherson, 1978) 1 11 Jul 27, 2016 06:58PM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson 1 8 Feb 17, 2015 03:34PM  
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James Alan McPherson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American short story writer and essayist. He spent his early career writing short stories and essays, almost without exception, for The Atlantic. At the age of 35, McPherson received a Pulitzer Prize for his collection of stories, Elbow Room (1978). He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973) and the MacArthur Foundation Award (the s ...more
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“I think that love must be the ability to suspend one's intelligence for the sake of something. At the basis of love therefore must live imagination.” 8 likes
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