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The Cost of Lunch, Etc.: Short Stories by…

The Cost of Lunch, Etc.: Short Stories

by Marge Piercy

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Interesting new collection by a versatile writer. These are the first stories of hers that I've read, following a poetry collection last year and Woman at the Edge of Time many years ago. A lot of the stories are based on misunderstandings, and in some cases, coming to recognize them. The stories are short, averaging around eight pages in a small volume, but Piercy captured enough key details about the characters that we can see what she's up to, or in some cases, at least realize that we're not sure. The tales themselves are pretty easy reading, but several (at least) reward a second glance or some cogitation. I don't know how the themes fit in with Piercy's other recent writings, but she's someone I've intended to read more of, and this collection encourages me to look for another. ( )
  Jim53 | Feb 28, 2016 |
I have long been a fan of Marge Piercy's work. The last Piercy book I read was her literary memoir, SLEEPING WITH CATS, which I loved. Before that I had much enjoyed SMALL CHANGES, GONE TO SOLDIERS and SUMMER PEOPLE. I realize that this is only a small fraction of her prolific output, and now, having read her latest, a short story collection (her first) called THE COST OF LUNCH, ETC., my appetite has been whetted for more of Piercy.

Because THE COST OF LUNCH, ETC. is a masterful, mesmerizing set of twenty stories, each one an absolute gem which left me wondering how Piercy is able to create such real, believable breathing characters in just a dozen pages or, often, even less. There is the eccentric widow, whose grown children see her as a 'hoarder' and whose thoughts and activities do indeed place her squarely into that category so recently exploited on cable TV ("Saving Mother from Herself"). And the middle-aged wife kissed by a neighbor, who wonders if her husband still cares, remembering a time when "he loved her till the ceiling went away and her eyes fell back in her head" ("What the Arbor Said"). In "Fog" a woman is confronted with her long-time partner's early onset Alzheimer's and thinks, "I have a child but she is growing backwards into babbling and then silence. But I made a commitment: partners for life."

Much is made in several of the (obviously autobiographical) stories here of Piercy's feelings about being a Jew in a non-observant family and how, as a small child, she loved visiting her Orthodox Jewish grandmother in Cleveland, where she accompanied her to temple and shul. In "What and When I Promised" the ten year-old narrator tries to comfort her grandmother Hannah, whose whole family was lost to the Holocaust, and tells her: "Grandma, I will always be a Jew. No matter what, I will remain a Jew so long as I live ... And I have kept that promise ever since."

In more than a few of these stories the narrator describes a distant father who wanted a son, and was disappointed at having a daughter. Reading these, I was suddenly reminded of a song from the seventies, Lori Jacobs' "Constant Disappointment" - "I've been a constant disappointment all my life/To the people in my life/Who say they really care." And, in one of my everything-is-connected musings, I wondered if Jacobs had ever read Piercy, or if Piercy had ever heard Jacobs's song.

Bottom line: these are simply wonderful stories. HIGHLY recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Mar 10, 2014 |
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Marge Piercy's debut collection of short stories brings us glimpses into the lives of everyday women moving through and making sense of their daily internal and external worlds. Keeping to the engaging, accessible language of Piercy's novels, the collection spans decades of her writing along with a range of locations, ages, and emotional states of her protagonists. From the first-person account of hoarding and a girl's narrative of sexual and spiritual discovery to the recounting of a past love affair, each story is a tangible, vivid snapshot in a varied and subtly curated gallery of work. Whether grappling with death, familial relationships, friendship, sex, illness, or religion, Piercy's writing is as passionate, lucid, insightful, and thoughtfully alive as ever. -- taken from front flap of dust jacket.… (more)

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