Nebraska Center for Writers

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About Judith Slater


The Baby Can Sing
Copyright © 1999
by Judith Slater
Sarabande Books

The Baby Can Sing introduces a writer who appraoches the world at a surprisingly oblique angle. Judith Slater writes in a prose dance, dramatizing the lives of ordinary people who wonder what they can do to bring more passion into their lives, or at least less lonelieness.
The characters in these stories are a diverse bunch — a floral clerk with aspirations of being a ballet dancer, a photographer volunteering to take the pictures at his ex-girlfriend's wedding, a father playing the role of reluctant chaperon at his daughter's school dance — but all of them are alert to the moments of possibility, transcendance, and sometimes even magic that exist just under the surface of ordinary life.
In vivid, witty prose, Judith Slater presents a world where people come together and make do, as they learn to live with the odd possibilities in life. — from the jacket
Judith Slater is a writer whose work rings true to experience: her observation of the world is keen, reported in a prose distinguished by fresh imagery and clever turns of phrase. Her style is deft, not light, the difference being that deftness is an aspect of grace. Her dialogue sounds like human voices. She has an eye for subtle details, physical and psychological, that make her characters come alive and maintain their credibility, even in those instances less than credible. ... She is a writer who understands that the first allegiance of fiction is to the imagination. — Stuart Dybek
A debut collection of 13 stories by academic Slater (University of Nebraska/English), whose efforts won her the 1998 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.
Slater has a light touch, which lends a grace to her work that is as welcome (in its lack of pretense) as it is rare. The standard contemporary themes — domestic and social life — predominate, but Slater's characters have a sense of humor and enough of a sharp ironic edge to keep them from sinking into the quicksand of self-absorption. The title piece, for example, is an interior monologue of a new mother who tries, as all new mothers do, to envision the life of the baby whose future has suddenly eclipsed her own. Nuanced and extremely subtle, it makes good use of the classic pattern of parental affections played against actual reality, as does "Pretty Night," which portrays a middle-aged father's sympathetic pain in the face of his daughter's social unease at a school dance. Other pieces have a decidedly fantastic edge to them: "Our New Life" offers an amusingly literal take on the process of transference that occurs between a psychologist and her patient, while "Soft Money" shows the effect of environment upon attitude through the adventures of a man who redecorates his office and actually creates a new world. "The Things We Find" depicts two unhappy teenage baby-sitters who rummage through the homes of their clients looking for evidence that all domestic life is as flawed as their own, while "Sandra Dee Ate Here" is about a young waitress trying to start over again after the collapse of her marriage. The restraint with which Slater handles her characters' overwhelming melancholy is remarkable. It is exactly this understatement that makes her fiction so poignant and striking.
Memorable and rich. Slater brings an extraordinary precision to the delineation of everyday sorrows and the indomitable hopes they generate. — Kirkus Reviews
The 1998 Mary McCarthy Prize-winner for short fiction is a promising first collection of 13 stories that tread the fine line between sweet reflection and bittersweet sentimentality. The title story is one of the shorter pieces in the collection; its cool, palpable rhythm translates an infant's unintelligible but soulful cooing and sighing into exhilarating song. The cadence of this piece conveys Slater's potential to undergird her pretty prose with a solid, deeper beat. In "The Bride's Lover," Slater juxtaposes the moony grief of a brooding man, invited to be the photographer at his ex-lover's wedding, with quick images of the less-than-perfect scene: the vicious cat preying on hummingbirds, the ravaged buffet table, a tipsy and bleary-eyed relative. Anyone who has tried to daydream out of a windowless office or a cramped cubicle will appreciate the suggestion, in "Soft Money," of how to decorate one's working space to the hilt. Forget about mauve ergonomic chairs: why not luminescent blue walls, a wrought-iron four poster bed for comfy reading and a reflecting pool with goldfish? ... Imaginative, humorous and showing an impressive range of styles and insights. ... Innocent, yearning young girls; clumsy, hard-drinking buddies; and workaday women coping with solitude or love — all come to life with Slater's offbeat humor, subtle touches of irony and compassionate storytelling. — Publishers Weekly
“The baby can sing. And maybe even dance. If I had a baby, that’s the kind of baby I’d want.” Slater captures the imagination so subtly and quickly in the title story that the mind dances to the music with the imaginary baby. This music has soul artfully captured in just a few pages, and hidden depths it can take hours to explore. “The Bride’s Lover”invites a look through the camera lens of a rejected lover as he photographs his ex’s wedding; “Our New Life” reunites a patient and therapist for startling changes in their lives; “The Glass House,” aptly named, tells of a man who values his house more than his wife, his daughter or his lover; “Water Witch” offers a glimpse into the mature mind of a teenager who watches in bemusement as her older sisters and mother chase men; and there are nine more stories just as complex and brilliantly simplistic at the same time. While the primary appeal for this collection will be for the literary lovers since Slater won the 1998 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction with it, popular fiction aficionados shouldn’t hesitate to browse and be captured within the dance of words even if the announcement of an award automatically makes the reader feel something is wrong with them if they don’t like the book. So with trepidation, the first page is cracked and the reader ventures in. In this case, a treasure trove of short fiction awaits. A collection equally at home in an English class and on the bedside table. — Melanie C Duncan, Foreword,
Judith Slater's new stories are rich with keen descriptions and characters that span the breadth of human emotion. ... Several moments in the collection provoke visceral responses. — Rain Taxi
Slater's collection of thirteen stories possesses a wonderfully original voice and a zest for offbeat characters. ... [She] has a clean style in which she always returns to images that make each story work as a whole. The result is outstanding. — Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life

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