Cries For Help, Various

Cries for Help, Various: Stories

From the highly acclaimed author of Edisto and The Interrogative Mood, Padgett Powell’s new collection of stories, Cries for Help, Various, follows his mentor Donald Barthelme’s advice that “wacky mode” must “break their hearts.” The surrealistic and comical terrain of most of the forty-four stories here is grounded by a real preoccupation with longing, fear, work, loneliness, and cultural nostalgia. These universal concerns are given exhilarating life by way of Powell’s “wit, his dazzling turns of phrase” (Scott Spencer). In “Joplin and Dickens,” the musician and writer meet as emotionally needy students in an American grade school; in “Change of Life,” a father ponders whether getting new clothes for the family or the patriotic purchase of a “new Government Cookie Flyer” would be more meaningful. In “The Imperative Mood,” giving orders to others—“Fall back and regroup”—leads less to power than to rumination.

Padgett Powell’s language is both lofty and low-down, his tone cranky and heartfelt, exuberant and inconsolable. His characters rebel against convention and ambition, hoping to maintain their very sanity by doing so. Even the most hilarious or fantastical stories in Cries for Help, Various ring gloriously, poignantly, true.

Praise & Reviews

“Rifles through fear, identity, meaning, and cultural memory in forty-four short, surreal stories. . . Read, obsessively re-read, and then carry around all fall in backpockets or tote bag as talismanic accessory advertising your smart-cool weirdness.” —Vanity Fair, “7 September Books We’ve Waited All Year For”

“By turns moving, funny, and maddening…These stories are very much in the key of Donald Barthelme…with touches of Nicholson Baker’s fascination with the microscopic and the nostalgic.They regularly embed a fragment of wisdom, a brilliantly turned phrase, or a laugh-inducing one-liner.”
—Teddy Wayne, The New York Times Book Review

“A surreal and at times laugh-out-loud collection of short stories”
The Wall Street Journal

“Powell’s range is matched only by his sense of play, and this book is a skeleton key to an extremely gifted and quintessentially American writer, at home in any form.”
Publishers Weekly

“Powell’s wonderfully playful syntax epitomizes his madcap vision and ultimately steals the show. As in his novel, You and Me (2012), Beckett comes to mind, though Powell demonstrates his own invigorating love of language and life.”

“A playful and provoking clutch of stories that forces words and themes into unfamiliar territory.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Powell’s latest virtuosic collection of short stories, Cries for Help, Various puts another wing on the house of Greatest Living Southern Writer that he’s been building for three decades.”
—Orlando Weekly

“Tremendously entertaining. . . A rich stew of language and humor exposing an absurd world of Southern crackpots, satire and existentialism.”
Shelf Awareness Pro

“It’s the music of a virtuoso.”
—Bill Morris, The Millions Most Anticipated List: The Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview

“Padgett Powell once again proves himself one of our most talented and versatile fiction writers with the captivating Cries for Help, Various.”
Largehearted Boy

“To read a Padgett Powell story is to ride, and ride well, never quite sure of where you are going, not caring because it is so wonderfully captivating. But the real genius is that Powell, in his own way, always leaves you exactly where you need to be. The stories in Cries for Help, Various will transport you.”
—Kevin Wilson, author of the New York Times bestselling The Family Fang

Cries for Help, Various is ecstatic and necessary. The inimitable Padgett Powell holds up his house-of-cards short stories with his own breath. And like his own Charlie Dickens, he’s that rare writer who can ‘step inside the trick’–which is life itself–smile, and save us all from it.”
—Scott Blackwood, author of See How Small