Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Marly Swick


Evening News
Copyright © 1999
by Marly Swick
Little, Brown

It must seem odd to him how you got punished for the minor infractions. A "time out" for talking back. No Popsicle for coming home late. No TV for breaking your sister's Busy Box. But for the major crimes, there was no punishment. How much "time out" for shooting your little sister?
Giselle thought she finally had it all together. She'd escaped from the Midwest to temperate southern California with her yong son, Teddy. She'd married Dan Trias, the impassioned professor of her Thursday evening composition class at Cal Tech. Dan seemed the perfect man for her: handsome, literate, articulate. They had a baby — Trina — who bound the four of them together. They had become a family, inviolable. Or so she'd thought.
When Trina and Teddy are involved in a terrible accident, fault lines immediately appear, revealing them as a family divided. Dan's ability to communicate collapses in the face of the crisis, and Giselle finds herself pulled between her grieving husband and her shocked son. And as she struggles to piece her family back together, Giselle has to teach herself the hardest lesson a mother can learn: how to forgive your child the unforgivable.
Searing, illuminating, and, finally redemptive, Evening News explores the fragile relationship in stepfamilies, the nature of the love between parents and their children — and what happens when the two collide. — from the jacket
It's one thing to have the artist's gifts of language and insight, which Marly Swick has in abundance. It's another thing to have the guts to use those gifts to approach some of the most difficult questions of modern society. ... Not only is Marly Swick a prodigiously talented artist, she also has remarkable courage. ... A novel of rare power and profound importance. — Robert Olen Butler
... engrossing ... — Kirkus Reviews
With each perceptive, beautifully composed work of fiction, Swick, author most recently of Paper Wings, has won new readers and has now been given the boost of a generous print run and stepped-up promotion for her new novel. The fear, of course, is that such support was earned by artistic compromise, and Swick certainly has chosen a sensational subject, but she has avoided all the pitfalls of commercialization and written a powerful and dignified family tragedy. — Booklist
What's startling ... is the precision with which Ms Swick's clear and unobtrusive prose defines an intricate emotional landscape, a precision that in itself produces a kind of thrill. — New York Times Book Review
Swick, who peppers her stories with detailed descriptions (Teddy sports a "hideous tie-dyed lime green and purple Goosebumps shirt with a grotesque tarantula on the front"), imparts Giselle's struggle to hold things together with unflagging precision and unsentimental compassion. — Entertainment Weekly
Swick's second novel ... is another emotional powerhouse. Nine-year-old Teddy accidentally shoots his beloved stepsister, Trina, who's not quite two, a horrifying premise Swick handles beautifully. The novel's three sections cover roughly ten weeks in the complicated life of this blended family: Dan, Trina's father and Teddy's stepfather; Giselle, Trina and Teddy's mother; and Teddy himself. Each struggles in his or her separate ways to "recover" from Trina's death. Teddy finally leaves California to rejoin his father in Nebraska and is later followed by Giselle, who also returns to their hometown seeking peace. A satisfying ending moves us forward a dozen years to Teddy's college graduation. It's reassuring to see into the future and glimpse how the characters have handled their situations. Swick is a gifted writer, making this difficult journey through parental love, guilt, and forgiveness worth the effort. — Library Journal
Possesses both the psychological suspense of Sue Miller's bestselling family drama The Good Mother and the emotional acuity of Alice Munro's short stories. — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
... imparts Giselle's stuggle to hold things together with unflagging precision... — Entertainment Weekly
A remarkable performance...on the shelf [with] Anna Quindlen and Jacquelyn Mitchard. — Chicago Tribune
Mary Swick's engrossing Evening News opens with a heart-shattering moment — nine-year-old Teddy accidentally kills his baby sister with his neighbor's .38 pistol — which Swick masterfully uses to dissect the fault lines that can run through a family, cleverly squeezing every last ounce of emotion and empathy from his tragic opening shot. — Elle
With Evening News, Marly Swick offers a probing and poignant story of the disintegration of a family after a tragic accident. The realism jumps up and grabs you by the lump in your throat. Don't expect a Hollywood treatment, but you can expect to question how you would react under similar circumstances. ... It's a heart-wrenching tale told in an all too believable fashion that in lesser hands could have been maudlin. Instead, the family in Evening News could be any of our families — and that's the scary part. — Denver Post
Swick's fearless approach to such emotionally charged territory has been compared to Grace Paley and Alice Munro, but her prose precision and contemporary language and references give her a distinct and very readable voice. — Weekly Alibi
Swick is a master of the small but significant detail, her prose as delicate as gossamer wings, her observations as finely tuned as a professional eye examination. — Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Evening News treats a theme which, in the hands of a less talented writer, might have been a maudlin tear-jerker, the sort of plot PR gurus like to call "ripped from the headlines." Instead, it is an emotionally intense work which somehow examines the worst kind of tragedy with a magnifying glass, but never stoops to sentimentalism. Swick says she wanted the book to be "tragic, but redemptive," and she has succeeded. ... a flawless work of fiction. — Nebraska Center for the Book Quarterly

Copyright © 1990
by Marly Swick
Harper Perennial

Marly Swick is a sort of archaeologist of the heart, and in Monogamy she demonstrates a remarkable understanding of her subject. Swick shows us the contemporary family in its true form, fractured and enduring, and her insights and observations are at once tender and jarringly accurate. The characters in these stories face real hardship — spouses and children lost to tragedy or failed understanding — yet their grief is made bearable by the humor and generosity of Swick's vision. Winner of the 1990 Iowa Short Fiction Award (as A Hole in the Language), Monogamy is about people who are grappling with life's difficulties, and it is most compelling as it reveals the unexpected strength and tenacity of those who, injured, desire and sometimes achieve wholeness once again. — from the jacket
Marly Swick's accomplished stories are wholly contemporary in their grasp of the American situation and wholly traditional in their establishment of rounded, complex characters who live beyond the pages that define them here. Swick has a finely focused, kaleidoscopic awareness as a writer; she takes another look, and another, and gives us certain, varied renditions of mobile, restless people coping with broken, constantly realigning families, fashioning new selves that incorporate reunion, abandonment, and an always hard-won forgiveness. Marly Swick's A Hole in the Language is a lovely, funny, deathly sorrowful, essentially hopeful, wonderful collection of stories. She is a writer with wisdom and new information, and we can only hope she'll be widely read. — Jayne Anne Philips
"These bittersweet stories about vulnerable yet enduring women are enormously appealing. At least one of them, "Heart," is so closely woven in humor and pathos, its voice so expertly wrought, that it is exquisite, a fully accomplished masterpiece. — John Leggett
Swick handles layers of time and memory dextrously, exposing just the right balance of sorrow and hope...each precision-crafted short story glints with keen understanding of the ways of the heart. — Booklist
Swick is an excellent short story writer who seems to create effortlessly. Her stories are clear and direct, and above all, real. These characters encounter complications that have no script. They demonstrate courage and strength in finding a path to follow and in redesigning their journey. A very enjoyable, stimulating collection. — Academic Library Book Review
In this collection of nine cunningly wrought stories ... her characters wrestle with the ineffable. A Hole in the Language is about atomized lives and the ad hoc alchemy that's used to make them whole again. ... Marly Swick's deliciously bitter stories swing, metronomically, between life's almost unbearable barrenness and its sorrowful, sensual fullness. — New York Times Book Review
Marly Swick's deliciously bitter stories swing, metronomically, between life's almost unbearable barrenness and its sorrowful, sensual fullness....Cunningly wrought. — New York Times Book Review
Swick's characters are made real through fluid prose and generous servings of images and insight. — Kirkus Reviews
Swick's narrators...face down tragedies with a toughness conveyed with dead-pan wit and grace....Swick apportions weal and woe so evenly that it's hard to know whether to cheer or cry. — Publishers Weekly
A lovely, funny deathly sorrowful, essentially hopeful, wonderful collection of stories. — Jayne Anne Phillips
Swick does what most post-modernist composers and painters only claim to do: explore new emotions — the elusive and enigmatic textures that seemingly defy expression....In the world of the short story, Ms Swick is the Queen of Hearts. — Bob Shacochis

Paper Wings
Copyright © 1996
by Marly Swick

The year is 1963 and President John F. Kennedy is busy changing the world. Or so believes Suzanne Keller, the twelve-year-old narrator of Paper Wings. It is a belief inspired by Suzanne's mother, Helen, whose devotion to this dynamic political leader is imbued with a nearly religious fervor. Before the world's transformation can be completed, however, President Kennedy is tragically assassinated. As Suzanne notes in Paper Wings' opening sentence, "Lee Harvey Oswald might as well have shot my mother through the heart." So begins Marly Swick's extraordinary first novel, Paper Wings, a brilliant meditation on the choices — both simple and complex — that direct and shape our lives. Through the adoring, often bewildered eyes of Suzanne, whose love for her sensitive, highly strung, mysterious mother provides the focus for her own interior life, Helen is revealed as a woman engaged in a constant, if intensely private, struggle between the repressive confines of conventional responsibility and the lures of passionate engagement, heightened experience, and the seductive possibility of transcendence.
As she has demonstrated in her two previous, greatly acclaimed short story collections, Marly Swick is a masterful chronicler of our rich and complicated emotional landscape. Hers is the lyrical understatement, of subtle yet penetrating — often devastating — observations about the accommodations we make to the notion of family. In Paper Wings, Swick applies her particular style of probing and compassionate insight to a poignant coming-of-age story that negotiates the territory between rebellion and obedience, repression and passion, incarceration and freedom. And amid these larger concerns, Swick gives us a mesmerizing and powerful story of love between mother and daughter — and of the persuasive, hard-won lessons offered by each concerning the virtues of individual integrity, especially in a world in which the highest accolades are usually reserved for conformity and good behavior. — from the jacket
Swick, painting a portrait of a naive America forced to grow up a little too fast, combines an unobtrusive tone with vivid images — the ubiquitous Avon lady, a Betsy Wetsy doll filling in for baby Jesus in a family's Christmas creche. Paper Wings evokes a sweet, uniquely American nostalgia as it follows Suzanne through the years, dissecting a family's — and a country's — innocence lost. — Entertainment Weekly
Paper Wings is a gentle evocation of baby boomer childhood. It's greatest strength is the way the story mourns a simpler, safer time, even as it acknowledges the price many paid to conform to the rigid ideas of "normality" that marked the early 60s. — Susan Isaacs, Orlando Sentinel
Swick's strong suit here is her sensitivity to the subtle (and sometimes flagrant) intellectual persecution faced by any number of women who came of age and married before the '70s, women who found their intelligence and their curiosity dulled or buried by husbands who couldn't (or wouldn't) acknowledge their smarts. Suzanne's father isn't painted as a villain, but his cluelessness about his wife's crushed spirit makes him an outsider. — Salon
Marly Swick, masterful chronicler of our emotional landscape, applies her insight to this poignant coming of age story, a powerful story of the love between mother and daughter. It begins the day Kennedy was shot and you will recall many of the experiences of Suzanne and her mother Helen. You will want to read all of Swick's works. — The Independent Reader
Set against the background of the Kennedy years, Swick's haunting first novel captures the elusive emotional interplay between mothers and daughters and the dynamics of a family slowly breaking apart....The story finds real energy in its flashback framework of Suzanne's adult reflections....Readers may be reminded of Alice McDermott's subtle and evocative novels, and of the road scenes in Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here, but Swick has her own distinctive understanding of human relationships. Beautifully composed and controlled, and steeped in the small details that produce emotional veracity, the novel again shows Swick, whose book of short stories, The Summer Before the Summer of Love, was highly praised, as a writer of mature insights and impressive gifts. — Publishers Weekly, starred review
Behind the New Frontier facade is a more complicated and interesting vision of the eternal difficulty of living in this world, where passion is essential but also destructive, where country and city have their own specific cruelties and the land between is a largely meaningless interstate highway, where Midwest winters are brutal but tropic islands are claustrophobic, and where meaning is something we are all, always, struggling to find. — Jane S Smith, Tribune Books
Swick is a master of the small but significant detail, her prose as delicate as gossamer wings, her observations as finely tuned as a professional eye examination ... In an age in which coming-of-age novels seem to be crawling out of the woodwork, Paper Wings, in acknowledging how imperfect and random life can be, is a standout. — Cleveland Plain Dealer
Elicits the kind of pit-of-the-stomach feeling specially reserved for times of family disintegration, and, while there is no grand tragedy, the loss of those elusive islands of serenity is keenly felt." — The New Yorker
The novelist's hypnotic rendering of one family and its response to a particularly important moment in recent American history contains scene after scene in which the terror lurking behind all middle-class existence seems constantly about to break through the surface of things ... Marly Swick links all this together into an impressive first novel about love and education into the perils of family life. — National Public Radio
The story is told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Suzanne Keller. Her mother, although a depressive, finds new purpose and seemingly a new life inside the Kennedy campaign. In the summer of '63, the Kellers move into their dream home and become one of the "model families in model houses." When Kennedy is assassinated, brightness goes out of the Kellers' transquility. — Gerald Wade, Omaha World-Herald

The Summer Before
the Summer of Love
Copyright © 1995
by Marly Swick

The stories in The Summer Before the Summer of Love seductively combine a sense of life's barren sorrow with a sensual fullness. Marly Swick is consistently original and unflinching in her observations of the dynamics that develop between friends and lovers, parents and children, husbands and wives. The Summer Before the Summer of Love contains a startling range of human experience, but each story in its way gives us characters who are grappling with disappointment and loss.
In "The Other Widow," a grieving mistress meets her deceased lover's wife; in "Crete," a woman who once escaped a grisly murder now finds herself struggling with the death of her daughter, and the fear that her baby's life was taken because her own had been spared; in the title story, a girl takes a road trip to a Beatles concert with her mother and sister, and faces the difficult emotional balancing act posed by her parents' recent separation.
One of Swick's great distinctions is the way she evokes each character's struggle to become whole again in a style that is as exquisite as it is unsentimental. Few writers are able to write about their characters so warmly or intimately. Fewer still can create a truer sense of the way people really do live, and love — and do so with such grace, intelligence, and humor. — from the jacket
The Summer Before the Summer of Love is gossip of the arty and high kind, which is to say that it speaks about dangers and secrets as necessary to understand as they are sad to suffer from. Without guile or flim-flam or graceless gimmick, this is storytelling that enthralls, that quickens the heart and ravels the loosened soul. Marly Swick's is the voice you hear beneath the covers, or when your ear is pressed to the closed door of another's private life, and there's no sentence she wouldn't write to remind us, her needy and prodigal tribe, that how it was then is exactly how it is now. — Lee K Abbott
Marly Swick's stories are smooth, but while the author is in control, she is interested in people who are standing on unstable ground. Or who have to coexist with unpleasant truths. Or who see where they're going by understanding (however imperfectly, and however belatedly) where they've come from. She's interested in people who are forced to improvise — in observing how people try to effect a balancing act with themselves, when the sands are shifting. Many of the characters are haunted, or are about to be; though they're solidly drawn by their creator, you still have the sense they might pass like ghosts right through their own lives — or, rather, that they already have, and now, more haunted than haunting, they're about to occupy the next space, the next stage in their lives. It's an interesting, impressive collection of stories. — Ann Beattie
In Swick's affecting new novell,Evening News, all her characters' worst fears come true. ... Ms Swick does a wonderful job of using her eye for psychological detail and her innate sympathy for her characters to create stories that remind us of the bare-bone facts of human existence — love, death and loss — that lie just beneath the pretty, polished surface of people's lives. With this collection, she firmly establishes herself as a gifted practitioner of the art of the short story, an heir to the emotional territory of Grace Paley and Alice Munro. In the hands of a lesser writer, such events might echo with the tinny sound of the talk-show confessional, but Swick writes about Giselle with such unsentimental precision that she is able to make her predicament feel utterly palpable and real. — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
A perfect collection ... Next time I'm asked who my favorite living short story writer is, I will surely say Marly Swick. — The Review of Fine Fiction
"...wistfulness and tender irony...meticulous, quintessentially American stories....Swick is keenly attuned to the persistence of sorrow and the snarl of emotions underlying everyday lives. — Booklist
The striking element in this collection of short fiction is Swick's ability to tell practically anybody's story with a familiarity that renders the characters both sad and funny as they adjust to what life throws at them. ... Each piece is a glimpse into the hearts and minds of people on the road to understanding themselves, who may or may not ever get there. — Entertainment Weekly
Swick’s style is so smooth and inviting that you find yourself drawn into these stories before you realize the depth of the difficulties in which the characters find themselves. These stories all pack drama and a strong story line. — Book Passage
Swick, like the best writers of short stories, is blessed with the ability to define character and impel interest. One becomes engrossed before realizing how effectively one has been hooked. — The Morning Star-Telegram
Swick's beautiful, sad stories are a pleasure to read....Jam-packed with life and feeling...they linger in the memory and continue to reveal themselves long after one has put the book down. — Newsday
What's the precision with which Ms. Swick's clear and unobtrusive prose defines an intricate emotional landscape, a precision that in itself produces a kind of thrill....On the surface, Marly Swick's characters inhabit a brightly colored yuppie world. They wear nice, practical clothes from LL Bean, dine on colorful Fiestaware and debate differing "philosophies of food." They take holidays in Taos, study "feng shui, the Chinese art of placement," and reminisce about their college days, when they dropped acid and read Carlos Castañada. Lurking just beneath the placid surface of their lives, however, are deep fault lines of anxiety and grief....Writing in strong, unsentimental prose, Ms Swick — the author of a prize-winning collection of stories called A Hole in the Language — ushers the reader into her characters' well-lighted, pleasantly upholstered lives, then slowly and methodically reveals the fears, resentments and sadnesses hidden there in the corners and the shadows. — New York Times Book Review
Marly Swick is the Ann Beattie of the 90s. Swick's eye for emotional detail and the nuance of relationships is as sharp and atmospheric as her more well-known colleague. And Swick's stories, like Beattie's, often deal with issues of love and betrayal. But the characters who people The Summer Before the Summer of Love, Swick's second collection of stories, are a good deal less self-absorbed than those found on the pages of Beattie's many works. And while Swick's characters — like Beattie's — often betray their loved ones as well as themselves, they are not allowed to do so lightly. Swick burdens them with painful insight, powerful guilt and intricate ties of love that cannot be so neatly unraveled....In these stories, the complex emotional stew that makes up love gets full play. Sexual passion collides with enduring love, selfishness mixes with caring, irritation grates against deep concern. As life whirls around them, Swick's characters do their best to maintain — or regain — their footing and their integrity. — The News-Times
A brilliant collection of ten replete portrayals of family life, from an emerging storyteller whose generous command of the depth and range of her characters' lives suggest an Ameircan Alice Munro in the making. Marriage, parenthood, separation, and the desolating variety of loss are the emotional coordinates of Swick's fictional territory — whose geographic polarities are Nebraska and southern California....One of our most visible storytellers, whe is rapidly becoming one of our best. — Kirkus Reviews (pointer review)
The characters in this second story in a familiar modern American landscape where suburban adultery, alienated youth, betrayal, divorce and ultimately death abound. Swick's language, particularly her dialogue, resounds with the joy, suffering or confusion felt by her characters....In "The Prodigal Father," middle-aged Marshall hangs around his college-age daughter's house after his own burns down in the Oakland fires. Tripping on LSD with one of her housemates, he mourns not only the loss of his house and belongings but also of his long-gone marriage, his dog, his old life. But, ultimately, he — like other figures in this rewarding collection — arrives at quiet insights that prove both satisfying and resonant. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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