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Sweet Talk

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  352 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
Stephanie Vaughn is a writer’s writer, one whose debut collection of stories, Sweet Talk, was published more than two decades ago to critical acclaim. Readers have come to these stories over the years through word of mouth, posting glowing reviews to their Goodreads pages and on their blogs—unanimously agreeing that this collection is a modern classic that deserves to be i ...more
Hardcover, 194 pages
Published October 21st 1992 by Random House Value Publishing (first published January 27th 1990)
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Sara Batkie
I was first turned onto this by the New Yorker podcast that Tobias Wolff did featuring Vaughn's story 'Dog Heaven' from this, her first and only book. Granted, Wolff's voice could make a telephone book sound like an enticing read but he didn't steer me wrong here. It's an utterly winning book and, unlike many short story collections, there's not a dud in the bunch. Each one feels necessary and right. She comes from the same school of realistic, minimalist fiction as Carver and Hempel but she man ...more
Vanessa
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I first encountered Stephanie Vaughn years ago when her story "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" was featured in American Voices: Best Short Fiction by Contemporary Authors. That collection also introduced me to my first Raymond Carver, Andrea Barrett, and Alice Adams stories. I loved Vaughn so much that I filed her name away, apparently in the part of my brain where things actually stay put.

Many years later, I heard Tobias Wolff read her story "Dog Heaven" on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. The story
...more
Alan
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Why haven't there been more books and/or stories from Vaughn? Her stuff is up there with the best. A light touch, using humour and sarcasm to illuminate the corners of family life, covering schooldays and bullying and adultery and illness. Even though I don't like dogs, 'Dog Heaven'* and 'Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog' are two of the best stories I've read in a long time. Yet this came out in 1990 and nothing since (that I can track down)...

*Dog Heaven begins: “Every so often that dead dog dreams m
...more
Günter Voelker
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thrillingly good, creates little storms in the imagination.
Dave Brown
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, paperback
I wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience was one in which I remember where I was during the story, one in which I sat in my car after the commute from the office, unable to move until the story had completed. I remember sitting there, in that car, as Gemma looked out over the icy river after her father. "I was his eldest child, and he taught me what he knew," one of the closing lines of the s ...more
Kit
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
My first introduction to Stephanie Vaughn was through the New Yorker fiction podcast with two stories selected by Tea Obreht and Tobias Wolff, respectively. "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" is one of the most poignant yet straightforward portraits of small moment of coming-of-age I have ever read. "Dog Heaven" explores similar themes but is more pointed and painful, yet less sentimental. Both stories are narrated by Gemma, a young woman recounting her formative experienced growing up on military base ...more
Anne
May 01, 2012 added it
Found inside: a 4x6 glossy photograph of a cat, and a library hold slip dated 9/25/08.
Matt
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I get the impression that Vaughn is "a writer's writer," and I think she lives up to that: there's very little here that's obviously flashy, but instead, there's a collection of funny, warm, and ultimately bruised stories, brought over with a sense of modesty and conviction.

A lot of stories involve triangles-- we've got a couple instances of mother-father-grandmother, and a couple with husband-wife-best friend, and there are a couple here that deal with parents getting older, or sick and dying.
...more
Tara Carpenter
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love reading short stories but I don't do it often because there aren't as many as novels, and because I forget how much I like them. I can't remember where I heard about this collection by Stephanie Vaughn but I'm so glad I sought it out. This was definitely a collection, with overlying themes of the military influence on families, war's influence on everyone, and mostly the interactions between family members. About half of the stories involved the same family. I've marked it as historical-f ...more
Alisa
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Noreen recommended this collection which indicates that it requires a sophisticated reader. She said it was a one-hit-wonder and that Ms. Vaughn's skill became quite the model for short story artists and creators since its 1980s publication. Ms. Vaughn has remained elusive ever since.

Definite mastery here. While a short collection, it is obvious Ms. Vaughn labored over every sentence; as a reader I felt I had to return the favor, and ponder each sentence too, and what she was trying to share. T
...more
Josh
May 09, 2012 rated it liked it


I wish I could choose 31/2 stars! I really liked this collection, but would have enjoyed a little more variety. I kept thinking she should have published a collection made up entirely of Gemma stories, as that seems to be her forte. I enjoyed the non-Gemma stories the most and, in the end, there weren't enough of them for me. That being said, the writing is exceptional, instructive and, as Mr. Voelker says, thrilling. Thanks, buddy, for the book.
Claire
Sep 11, 2010 rated it liked it
I liked this collection, particularly the final story, "Dog Heaven." I thought all these stories have held up extremely well considering they were written in the early 70s. My main complaint is that many of the narrators sound the same, which wouldn't be so much a problem, but they are all in first-person narration, which all ends up blending together. A good, realistic look at women, though, I thought, with some hints of female rivalries and also kind of the absurdities of the mind.
Keith Rosson
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I can see why people are still talking about this book twenty years after its release. A near-perfect collection full of tender, rugged, frequently hilarious stories about women and girls trying to navigate the currents of family and love, and the indebtedness that comes along with both. I laughed out loud quite a few times and found myself rereading certain lines and passages - Vaughn's sentences absolutely shine. Wonderful book.
Penni Russon
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
I came to this author via the New Yorker Fiction Podcast (which I so recommend). I adored Tea Obrecht reading Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, but Tobias Wolff makes Dog Heaven into a masterpiece - as I reread the story in print, it was his voice in my head. I was thrilled when a month or two after I started hunting for this title it became available as a Kindle download in Australia. First published in 1990, the collection feels fresh and contemporary. Can't recommend this more highly.
JJ Aitken
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Stephanie Vaughn manages, with her clever use of metaphor to leave you thinking, was it actually a case of magic naivety. Childlike and wise in their brilliance, these stories are the clearest microscopic views of peoples inner workings. This is clearly a writer who has viewed the world from many different angles and geographical locations. I was so immensely surprised by this deep and gorgeous book, I cannot imagine what my life world be like without books like this.
Jb
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time! Vaughn has a terrific voice and an amazing way with a story. I was turned on to her work through a recent New Yorker fiction podcast in which Tea Obreht (?) reads Vaughn's short story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog." If at all interested, check out the podcast not only for the story itself but the conversation afterwards. And by golly read this book!
Pedro
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Originally attracted to this collection of short stories because of Stephanie Vaughn's short story, "Dog Heaven" (must read!) and I sure wasn't disappointed. Her voice and tone throughout her stories are compelling to any kind of reader and she can even be funny at times. Such a great short story collection! A contemporary classic for sure.
Eveline Chao
Jul 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Vaguely Lorrie Moore-ish in the sense of slightly quirky, mostly female voices who feel like they might be coming a little unhinged, but these characters are a little more grounded. When they're being out of it, it seems like it's more in an almost spiritual, not of this earth way. I think. Need to do more mulling and might change my mind entirely!
David
Jan 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vaughn writes perfect sentences. I find myself stopping while I'm reading just to look at one for a while. Very tight stories. Vivid, living characters. Full of emotion and contemplation. Still, Vaughn writes in a relaxed style. Great reading, I just sat down and read from one end of the book to the other.
lindsay
this book is very, very, very close to totally perfect. i skipped a story, but i feel okay about it -- the others each exist in this kind of crystalline, perfectly constructed way. here is a sentence: "Tonight for supper they had fish sticks, which had been out of the ocean too long and tasted like small punishments."
it is difficult to say any more about it, but i recommend it totally.
Janet Frasier
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Don't tell anyone, but my 13-year-old Sarah is getting this book for her birthday next week and we can start reading this book then! She requested it after we all got carried away with Dog Heaven read by Tobias Wolf and Abel, Baker, Charlie, Dog read by Tea Obreht on the New Yorker fiction podcast. We can't wait to read Stephanie Vaughan first hand!
Natalie
Dec 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I adored this book. Many of the stories seemed somehow perfect to me. They had a clear and clean structure that I really admire, not to mention compelling characters that both made me laugh and broke my heart. I don't know why Vaughn isn't taught more, or why she's not had a story published since Sweet Talk (at least, none that I could find), but I'm so glad I found this collection.
Corinne
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Two of Stephanie Vaughn's stories have been featured on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast (Dog Heaven & Able Baker Charle Dog) which turned me on to her book. Both of these stories are nothing short of masterpieces. The book goes from sweet and sad to funny and heartbreaking. It's a perfect book and I recommend it highly.
Melissa
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Completely wonderful! I first heard the story "Dog Heaven " as read by Tobias Wolff on the New Yorker Fiction NPR Program. That story, in particular, is completely wonderful and many (nearly all, really) stories in this collection are just as lovely. I don't know what happened to Stephanie Vaughn or why she hasn't written much since this collection, but she is truly gifted!
Katherine Pearl
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I can’t say enough good things about this collection. The most memorable stories recount the childhood of Gemma as she navigates the internal struggles of her family and the external challenges of growing up with other Army brats like herself as well as civilian friends and teachers. The standout is “Dog Heaven,” but all the stories in this slim volume, are fantastic.
Jennifer
Aug 17, 2011 rated it liked it
The writing was good, but I just didn't care about the characters or storylines. I found myself picking it up after days of not reading any of it, and I couldn't recall which short story I was on. There was supposed to be a recurring character, and I never felt she was developed or memorable.
Marc
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My favorite stories in this collection are the ones with the character Gemma, especially “Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog,” “Dog Heaven,” “Kid MacArthur,” and “The Battle of Fallen Timbers.” I also really liked the story “Snow Angel.” People with kids will relate.
Holly
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I heard "Dog Heaven" on a New Yorker fiction podcast and (not just because I have a weakness for dogs) the story stayed with me.
Except for "Other Women," which was off-putting due to the mention of crab lice, I am enjoying the whole collection.
Robin Evans
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Bought this after hearing--and loving --two of the stories on the New Yorker podcast. Those two stories open and close this collection and there are definitely stories worth reading in between, but I enjoyed the stories centred around the military family the most.
Lindsay Jacobs
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How did I live so long without reading Stephanie Vaughn? She tells stories masterfully. She's the sort of writer I would like to work to be when I grow up. The opening story to this book, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" pulled me into her world by my heart strings.
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“How is it possible you have caught me off guard, he seemed to ask. Exactly where have I miscalculated the velocities, how have I misjudged the vectors?” 0 likes
“We awoke to a fabulation of ice, the sun shining like a weapon, light rocketing off every surface except the surfaces of the Army's clean streets and walks.” 0 likes
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