Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Freebie: Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn

Congratulations to Amy Morgan, winner of last week's Friday Freebie, The Lost Daughter by Lucy Ferriss.

This week's book giveaway is Sweet Talk, the short-story collection by Stephanie Vaughn, originally published in 1990 and just re-released by Other Press with a new introduction by Tobias Wolff.  Over the years, Sweet Talk has built a huge fan club whose members have been dismayed that Vaughn hasn't published anything since her debut.  This is what Publishers Weekly had to say about the collection when it first came out:

"Every so often that dead dog dreams me up again." This arresting image opens "Dog Heaven," the final story in an accomplished first collection by a young writer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker. Vaughn writes mainly in a wry, undistanced first-person voice, creating imaginative language for recognizable young women in varying circumstances and careers. The narrator of "We're on TV in the Universe" crashes into a patrol car in winter, looks up at the arriving policeman and sees "the crazed lights on the top of his car slinging snowfish around his head." In "The Architecture of California" a young wife comes to understand that her husband has made her best friend pregnant. A comparable unfaithfulness is at the heart of "Other Women," while "Snow Angel" tells of a young mother, trapped in the house with her two children during a three-day snowstorm, who manages--just--to keep her sanity and faith with her kids. Most powerful are the stories about Gemma, including "Kid MacArthur" and "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" in which Vaughn's clear-eyed, scalpel-sharp and affectionate observations of a distinctive childhood are delivered in graceful, honest prose.

Fiction Writers Review has a good, lengthy and possibly spoiler-filled critique by Forrest Anderson who was first introduced to Vaughn's work through an audio podcast of Wolff reading "Dog Heaven" which he played while driving across two states to his parents' place:

As soon as I reached my parents’ home in Tarboro, I ordered a copy of the out-of-print Sweet Talk. Reading the collection felt a bit like unearthing a time capsule from the 1980s. Instead of finding neon leggings, synthesizer-laden cassette tapes, and photographs of Mikhail Gorbachev, I found myself picking through the techniques of minimalism—straightforward prose, stripped narrative, pedestrian details that gradually became lyrical and metaphorical. In many ways, it was like discovering a long lost contemporary of Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Mary Robison, and Ann Beattie. That said, however, there’s a heart and generosity to Vaughn’s writing that stands in opposition to minimalism.

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of the re-issued Sweet Talk, all you have to do is answer this question:

According to this interview with Patrick Somerville at The Rumpus, which author makes Vaughn laugh out loud while she is killing off an entire family in one of her short stories?

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on March 8--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on March 9.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done either or both of those, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.


  1. It's hard for me to take Stephanie Vaughn seriously as an author after the repeated cliche and total destruction of plot conflict present in her most popular works. Given that this was written previously to those, it might be worth a read. Arguably, perhaps I'm not qualified to be her critic, but if so, I would be most harsh.

  2. I have to ask, what "works" are you talking about? Are you thinking of some other Stephanie Vaughn? Maybe Stephanie Vaughan? Sweet Talk is Stephanie Vaughn's only book at the moment.