Jacob's Reviews > The Stories of J.F. Powers

The Stories of J.F. Powers by J.F. Powers
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Feb 01, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: i-own, nyrb, 2007-2009, short-fiction, powell-and-powers
Read from February 21 to March 29, 2009

March 2009

J. F. Powers is severely under-read. I have no real proof of that, although the fact that New York Review of Books chose to publish his work probably says something. Now, I'm not one to gush about specific books, and I don't want to blather on about how wonderful these stories are, but I suppose someone has to. Because the thing is, The Stories of J. F. Powers is simply a marvelous collection.

The stories here may not seem like much; Powers mostly wrote about priests in the Midwest, with some stories about race relations, baseball, jazz, and various other subjects. But these stories are just so good. Powers' craft feels near-perfect: his prose is subtle, charming, clever, and very witty. Even in parts where the story seems lacking, it's the language that pulls you in. Powers is solid, crisp, and incredibly precise with his writing. I suppose I should offer a sample, so here, from "One of Them" and the introduction, is Father Simpson's battle for the spare key:

"Father," said Simpson, coming to dessert, and remembering how he'd phrased the sentence before ("Father, how long will you be gone?") rephrased it, "will you be gone long?"
"Not long," said the pastor, as before.
"Father," said Simpson when he’d eaten his peaches, "while you're away, if I have to go out at night--hospital or something--and the church is locked, I can knock or ring, I know, but I'd hate to disturb Ms Burke, if you know what I mean, Father?"
The pastor nodded, as if he did know, but bowed his head in silent grace.
So did Simpson then, and, when they rose from the table, did not forget the pamphlet by his plate. "So I should knock or ring, Father?"
"Ring," said the pastor.


In his introduction to this volume, Denis Donoghue jokes that Powers "spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon wondering whether or not he should replace it with a semicolon," and it shows. It also seems to explain why Powers, in his decades-long career, produced only two novels and three collections of stories, all thirty of which are organized here. I need to keep these stories close at hand so I can read them again, and find Powers' two novels (Morte D'Urban and Wheat That Springeth Green), because he may not have written much, but Powers is simply too good to pass up.

(I should also mention that the book itself feels perfect: NYRB's distinct editions are always aesthetically pleasing, but I especially like this edition of Powers' work. Although I am slightly superstitious about yellow books, I never would have found this at the bookstore if the brightly-colored spine hadn't caught my eye. Also, this is just the right size; NYRB books usually feel a bit too slim or too large, but this book is the perfect weight and thickness. It fits my hand, and I keep carrying it around simply because it's comfortable. Wait, am I still gushing about this? I'm gushing. I can't help it--this book is just so darn beautiful!)
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Reading Progress

02/24/2009 page 29
5.09% "I've only read two stories so far, but...I think this is a new favorite. The stories are great, but Powers' writing style is almost perfect"
03/02/2009 page 111
19.47% "I am trying to savor these, limit myself to one story a day...but it's difficult. I want to devour them all at once."
03/24/2009 page 501
87.89% ""One of Them" was especially good--almost comical."
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

A very good "gush."


Jacob It wasn't easy figuring out what to say. I'm still not sure "gush" is the right word when talking about Powers, but it's probably better than "giddy as a schoolgirl."


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Ha, yes. Someone has even commented they are all hot and bothered to read Powers and I don't know what to make of that either, don't know what they are thinking, but unless they are joking, they might be in for a bit of a jolt.


message 4: by Alan (new) - added it

Alan I see what you mean (see Hard rain Falling) - you're as bad as me!


message 5: by Ali (new) - added it

Ali J. F. Powers is severely under-read. I have no real proof of that,
Sure you do. Yes, that NYRB published him is a good indicator that no one reads him, but consider also that this collection, published in 2000, only has fifty-one ratings on here, and all of his works have 320 in total. Not even Auchincloss is unread to that degree. At least some of his books, according to the back covers, were bestsellers. J.F. Powers got some awards and comes with a recommendation from Frank O'Connor, but that's pretty much it.
I'm in the process of getting his complete works from NYRB, including this collection, which is why I've found your review.


Jacob Ali wrote: "but consider also that this collection, published in 2000, only has fifty-one ratings on here, and all of his works have 320 in total."

Yes, good point. I didn't check the rating/review stats back when I read it. Rarely do it now, either. But if Powers only has 320 ratings now, imagine how few he had way back in March of 2009. The stats don't go that far back, but the daily breakdown (at the bottom of the page) of the past few months shows a lot of zeroes.

I have his complete works from NYRB, but I still haven't read the two novels. And it's been nearly four years since I read the stories. Maybe it's time for a J. F. Powers binge.


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