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The Nightingales of Troy

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  147 ratings  ·  36 reviews

“Outstanding. . . . Alice Fulton reveals herself to be triumphantly at home in the short story.” —Boston Sunday Globe

Set in Troy, New York, this linked collection follows a quirky and resilient Irish-American family through the twentieth century.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 13th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 7th 2008)
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Best Feminist Fiction
138th out of 847 books — 1,779 voters
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Community Reviews

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Jul 14, 2008 Zed rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults, esp women
Recommended to Zed by: Monica Twillinger
This is a new form of fiction - the connected short story collection. The first book I read using this structure was Andrea Barrett's "Servants Of The Map", which was excellent. Fulton has stretched the form a little further by setting each of ten stories in a successive decade of the 1900's. There are a few common characters but the stories all involve members of a single Irish-American family, the Garrahans, living in the upper Hudson Valley, especially the city of Troy and environs. The men i ...more
BookBrowse interview with Alice Fulton.

"The world presented here is a dark one, punctuated as it is with madness, a drowning, hospitalization, unfulfilled desires, and an unhappy marriage, but realism is never used for the sake of preventing nostalgia, and never overwhelms. Moments of genuine humor are juxtaposed with seriousness. Though you may find yourself wishing the characters would emerge unscarred, happiness is not found in the avoidance of pain. It's found, wisely, in the midst of it—thr
This book will haunt me for a long time because it's about the inevitable, and will delight for a long time with its humor and celebration of people and their will to live. It is "hardy but not comely," as Mamie Garrahan says of herself; it is not pretty, but it's striking and beautiful. As Mamie says, "Happiness is nothing but God's presence in the silence of the nerves." And as Father Jolley observes, "All education which does not soften the heart is wasted."

Fulton shows her characters' natur
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
There were a lot of things I liked about these stories, and I wish I had written a review right after I finished them. But I didn't, so a few quotes I copied from the book will have to suffice.

"Never a Dull Moment...What did people have against dull moments, anyway? The best things in life were dull."

"All education which does not soften the heart is wasted."

"Silence is so steadfast, you know. It is so ample, after all."
Jane Johnson
Fulton is a magician. Like Louise Erdrich, she has POV chapters that let you see much more than the individual characters but on top of that she spreads these lives and stories over the last century. Each chapter feels like the time period, especially the dialogue. I remember those WTRY jingles, and I love the Hudson River in this book. No one else has brought this area alive like these stories. Wow.
Alice Fulton steps from poet to short story collection with grace and beauty. The Nightingales of Troy is deftly constructed and introduced the reader to several generations of women from one family living in Troy NY from 1909-1999. Moving from laughter to tears, often in the same story, Fulton depicts fully drawn characters that the reader will not soon forget.
Nov 18, 2008 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
This novel is written in a great way--from many different points of view, many different narrators. It follows the lives of a family over a generation. The chapters are 'mini stories' narrated by different characters in the story. It gives a great view of relationships from different perspectives.
I've only read half this book so far, but I have to say that these are some of the most brilliant, well-crafted, original, and interesting stories I've read in a loooong time. Highly recommended!
Alice Fulton is a Troy, NY native, and I appreciated her rendering of the Troy setting, the deft connections between this linked narrative, and her gorgeous poet's voice translated into fiction.
To get the full force of this book, read it slowly, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else. There's great pain here, but this book also celebrates the beautiful, funny, weirdness of life.
Amanda Miller
I highly recommend these connected stories! An excellent read with really beautiful writing!
"That night, Ruth lay awake, obsessing. They were entering the last day of the century, and she had no plan. You must change your life!...
Ruth sometimes composed imaginary perfumes to put herself to sleep. Now she thought of a fragrance that smelled only of water, a perfume that had forgotten its flowers. Lethe. That's what she'd name it." (p. 246-247, "L'Air du Temps")

I should say I'm kind of uninterested in family epics in general - there always seems to be something strange about the fact tha
Alice Fulton had me just twelve pages into her collection, when Mamie, a rural housewife in 1908 who is pregnant with her fifth child, begins to feel labor pains. “I stopped scrubbing the floor,” she says, “and began scouring buckets and bowls. I pumped water for boiling and placed torn strips of cloth in the oven to bake clean. A woman in labor should have plenty fixed for others to eat, yet I was caught short. I could only put a big plate of bread and butter on the table.” She ties towels to t ...more
Aug 26, 2009 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who likes great stories with lovely sentences
Alice Fulton is brilliant, a find, one of the most exciting contemporary writers I've read, right up there with Anthony Doerr, Lorrie Moore, and Annie Proulx. Fulton's character development is enviable, and the weaving of characters and themes through these interrelated stories is knockout good. She knows story. Example: her subtle allusion to Bartleby in "Not too Much to Ask," If you don't know Melville's story you'll miss just how effective this is. Even if you don't get the allusions (I doubt ...more
Shawn Adams
First time I read this was a year ago, and I just read it again. These stories remind me of Flannery O'Connor. All of them are wicked good. Fulton's the best short fiction writer I've read in years- and I read a lot of stories.
Michelle Wilson
The thing that I have most enjoyed is how these interlocking stories give a more intimate portrait of this family than a novel would. The writing is also tremendous.
Although I liked the writing, characters, and story of this book just fine, it disappointed me because it hardly overlapped at all with the Troy that I have lived in while studying at RPI. What about the Troy picking itself up out of the post-industrial slump, the public library, the huge farmers' market, the vegan bakery, Sage College? Granted, the book ends in 1999, and most of that didn't exist yet. But the first two women to attend RPI graduated in 1946. They would have fit perfectly into th ...more
Carole Van domelen
connected stories that were beautifully written.
Jul 01, 2013 Eva rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys good fiction
Recommended to Eva by: a friend who reads
My favorite character is this lovely book is a funny, eccentric, willful, and dedicated nurse called Annie (named after Anne of Green Gables). The book begins with her birth and traverses the 20th century, showing her (and other characters) at different life stages. The title story, set in the 1930s, focuses on Annie's nursing, and Nightingales refers to Florence Nightingales (and to the bird in other parts of the book.) Annie's mother, her sisters, and her daughter are strong characters, too. O ...more
A quick read. Quirky characters. Fulton has a gift for creating distinctive voices and compelling the stories. She knit doesn't things up too tightly across stories, but leaves it to the reader to make those connections.

I don't have many complaints about the writing - except that in the early stories - maybe the first 1/3 of the book, there would be a line here or there that strained the narrative. The wording would be a little too eccentric and I wasn't sure whether it was the character who had
I thought this book was rather strange. I also found it difficult to follow the family line as the book progressed and kept turning back to figure out who the next story was about. Although when the story got to Annie, the nurse, it seemed that the stories unfolded more clearly. I didn't really care for some of the stories, but there were a few that tickled me!! The story about the girl who had problems and escaped from the mental institution was a favorite - especially when she put her sister's ...more
Nov 12, 2008 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who lilkes a good tale, especially women with ties to Troy and/or the Catholic Church.
Recommended to Laura by: A good review in the Seattle Times
I liked this book more as it went on; the last stories definitely had more of an impact. There were a couple of stories that made me feel like I was sitting in the parlor at 10 Elm Street, Troy, where my great aunts lived when I was a child. That also made me a little frightened since there were so many oddball characters (and not just the mentally ill ones) in the stories that I started wondering if any of this eccentric behavior is carried in my genes! I greatly enjoyed the references to Troy ...more
I really wanted to like this book. It had good moments, but the story collection format made it difficult to really get to know the characters. I liked some characters and others were boring. I prefer novels that take you deep into a person's life.
I liked the premise of this book: the story of a family over the last century based in Troy, NY (a local city for me), with different members of the family represented over time -- not really a chronology, but always moving forward in time. There was a fair amount of humor and some interesting characters, but it lacked something for me to get excited about.
Interesting book that spans generations of the same family. Each chapter looking at the life of different women from the family, and how they love, support and care for each other, sometimes in a dysfunctional way. It was enjoyable, at times funny, and also sad.
Abby Sominski
I was fascinated with this book from the first story, I felt like I was reading a new Jane Austen! I really enjoyed how the storytelling as well as the characters slowly modernized throughout the book and felt I knew the women in this family very well by it's end.
Lovely, I think, although I definitely liked some stories more than others--in the sense that I felt some stories were more carefully edited than others. Reminded me quite a bit of Melissa Banks, and that's a big compliment from me.
You could tell that this book was written by a poet. It had some one-of-a-kind, often hilarious turns of phrase, but I really had to concentrate to follow the author's train of thought (in the same way that I do when I read poetry).
A set of stories with an interesting structure--each story advances 7-10 years in time and shifts perspective within an extended family. Some chapters are better than others, so that's why just three stars...
I just couldn't get into this book so I'm doing something I almost never do, which is just taking it back to the library without even finishing it.
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For a photo gallery, the story behind the stories, and a reading group guide for The Nightingales of Troy, please visit
More about Alice Fulton...
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“Silence is so steadfast, you know. It is so ample, after all.” 4 likes
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