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Female Trouble

Female Trouble

Stories

  • reading group guide
"Nelson's prose is precise and energetic, and her insights delight because they manage to be at once surprising and so right as to seem inevitable."
-- The New York Times Book Review

Antonya Nelson is widely regarded as one of America's most talented women writers -- The New Yorker has named her one of the twenty best writers of her generation -- and with Female Trouble she returns to the short-story form with which she made her original literary mark.
Thirteen wise, funny, and startlingly perceptive stories about the vagaries of marriage, the uncertainties of family, and the revelations of female life, Female Trouble looks at the relationships not just between men and women but also between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Probing the subjects of love, fidelity, desire, dependence, and solitude, Nelson explores the broad notion of family from myriad angles, but always with surprising insight and her trademark offbeat humor.
The title story features a thirty-year-old man carrying on intimate relationships with three different women -- one institutionalized, one pregnant, one purely maternal -- but unable to commit to any of them. "Incognito" depicts a divorced woman whose turbulent teen years are suddenly brought back to her when she returns to her hometown with her own teenage daughter. In "The Unified Front," a husband reckons with his wife's decision to steal a baby while at a famous theme park, and in "Stitches," a disturbing late-night phone call forces a mother to confront her college-age daughter's sexuality and her own adulterous past.
Set in the vividly rendered Southwest and Midwest, these moving stories are dark and honest portraits of people in moral quandaries, gray areas, unclear circumstances -- stories that reveal us to ourselves with disturbing clarity. As always, Nelson astounds with the clean, terse power of her language, and she deftly uses humor to expose the soft underbellies of her tough-talking, unblinking characters. These are stories that will linger in the reader's mind long after they are read.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743242349 | 
  • April 2002
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide -- Female Trouble, by Antonya Nelson
Female Trouble is Antonya Nelson's first story collection since being selected as one of The New Yorker's twenty best writers for the twenty-first century. Author of three previous collections and three novels, Nelson has consistently been praised for her precise and energetic prose, her wry, offbeat humor, and the vividness with which she evokes her characters' inner lives. All of these qualities are in evidence in Female Trouble, whose thirteen stories explore the vagaries of marriage and romance, the difficulties of family, and the revelations of female life.
Discussion points
1. "Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself." Antonya Nelson opens the book with this epigraph, a quote from Oscar Wilde. Discuss the ways in which the women in these stories act out, both against external expectations and against themselves. What effect does rebellion have on their lives? Consider especially the teenage girls in "Incognito," Lynnie in "Loose Cannon," and Andrea in "Happy Hour."
2. "Loneliness never stopped stunning her; it was a lesson to learn again and again." [p. 52] This description, of Ellen in "Stitches," could easily apply to a number of characters in the collection. How do these people -- from Ellen, to the narrator of "Palisades," to the young widow in "One Dog Is People" -- respond to their feelings of solitude, and what do we le see more

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About the Author

Antonya Nelson
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Antonya Nelson

Antonya Nelson teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and is the award-winning author of three novels and four short story collections. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Best American Short Stories. She divides her time among Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

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