Aliens of Affection

Aliens of Affection: Stories

Aliens of Affection marks new territory for Padgett Powell, picking up where his first collection of stories, Typical, left off. Although his characters continue to revolt against the received instructions of modern American living – refusing to be dunked in what Saul Bellow has called the “marinade of correctness” – their concerns are less for independence than for the maintenance of sanity itself. Emotional estrangement seems both inevitable and worth fighting against to the middle-aged heroine of the O. Henry prizewinner “Trick or Treat”; to the unmistakably American roofer of “Wayne” (who was introduced in Typical); to the deserted husband, father, and non-vet of “Dump”; and to the fantastic heroes in three stories grouped as “All Along the Watchtower.”

Praise & Reviews

“Shunted one way or another to the margins of the New South, the characters in these witty but often formulaic nine stories struggle for something approaching love and acceptance. As Mr. Albemarle, a character in the title story says: “Affection was that which, and the only thing on earth which, you should be eternally thankful for.” In “Trick or Treat,” the collection’s best offering, a neglected housewife embodies this principle by seducing a 12-year-old neighborhood “Lolito.” In “Scarlotti and the Sinkhole,” a man injured (and possibly brain-damaged) in a highway accident yearns for a connection with the pretty clerk at his local liquor store. The connection comes, but only as he slides farther and farther from reality. The “Wayne” chronicles re-introduce, in a series of funny, surprisingly sympathetic vignettes, the redneck roofer and dreamer readers first met in Typical, Powell’s first collection. Powell writes in hyperactive prose, borrowing language from commercials and employing characters who speak and think through a fog of non sequiturs and TV allusions; now and then their (gloriously rendered) trash-talk seems to interest Powell more than the people who generate it. Hip, sexy and playful throughout, only in its weakest stories does this collection sacrifice warmth for flippancy. Rights:: Janklow and Nesbit.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“Powell (Edisto Revisited, Typical) has written a sometimes baffling, often fascinating, and always unique collection of short stories. The characters are drinkers, strippers, the mentally ill, and others you may not want to meet in real life, but they are compelling on the page. Not much may happen plotwise, but as the characters philosophize in a manner approaching stream-of-consciousness, Powell has fun twisting language and exploring how the human mind works.”
Library Journal

“A second collection (after Typical, 1991) from the author of the novel Edisto Revisited (1996), etc.: nine pieces—some previously published in Esquire and Harper’s—suggesting that Powell may now be one of our most linguistically inventive writers. His landscape is a South defined (that “vale of dry tears”) by Faulkner, Ray Charles, and Andy of Mayberry, peopled with characters who flirt with madness and find the perfect language to reveal their inner turmoil. The bored housewife in “Trick or Treat” encourages the attentions of an unlikely suitor, a 12-year-old “Lolito” with a singular crush. Powell brilliantly captures the voice of his brain-damaged narrator in “Scarliotti and the Sinkhole,” the sad and loony ravings of a moped accident victim as he drinks beer, forgets to take his meds, and waits for his hefty settlement check. The lowest of the low, the roofer of “Wayne,” feels left behind by the times, not to mention his wife and kids. The three parts of “All Along the Watchtower” start with the drunken lyricism of its “classical anarchist” narrator, a Peeping Tom who skips his outpatient appointment at a mental-health clinic to fly to Mexico in search of a 50-pound chihuahua, which he finds, along with a sexy nurse who has a huge supply of Percodan. This leads into a prose-poem rant by a stroke victim—a defense of silliness and quitting—and ends with the too-long fable of loneliness and twisted desire that takes place along the watchtower, looking over “a giant spoilbank of broken hearts.” Powell’s other man-boys, who resist being “properly stationed in Life,” include the abandoned dad and husband of “Dump” and two guys in “TwoBoys” who seek out a Chinese healer for their various afflictions. The boozing strip-club habitué of “A Piece of Candy” comes to the sobering revelation, being now a father himself, that all those women are also daughters. If Powell crashes here and there, it’s because he’s raised the bar so high: This is fiction that provokes, challenges, and renews your faith in possibility.”
Kirkus Reviews