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Drinking Coffee Elsewhere [Paperback]

ZZ Packer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 9 2004
In her debut Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. The title story describes a Yale freshman's alienation as a black, motherless loner trying to come to terms with her radically unfamiliar surroundings. 'Speaking in Tongues' follows 14-year-old church girl Tia as she runs away to the big city in search of the mother who abandoned her, and 'The Ant of the Self' features a bright young man's last-ditch attempt to understand his loser father on a trip to the Million Man March in Washington DC. Teeming with life, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a collection that explores what it is to be human. Never neatly resolved, these provocative and unforgettable stories resonate with honesty and wry humour and introduce us to a major new talent. ZZ Packer is the real thing.

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Product Description

From Amazon

An outstanding debut story collection, Z.Z. Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere has attracted as much book-world buzz as a triple espresso. Yet, surprisingly, there are no gimmicks in these eight stories. Their combination of tenderness, humor, and apt, unexpected detail set them apart. In the title story (published in the New Yorker's summer 2000 Debut Fiction issue), a Yale freshman is sent to a psychotherapist who tries to get her--black, bright, motherless, possibly lesbian--to stop "pretending," when she is sure that "pretending" is what got her this far. "Speaking in Tongues" describes the adventures of an Alabama church girl of 14 who takes a bus to Atlanta to try to find the mother who gave her up. Looking around the Montgomery Greyhound station, she wonders if it has changed much since the Reverend King's days. She "tried to imagine where the 'Colored' and 'Whites Only' signs would have hung, then realized she didn't have to. All five blacks waited in one area, all three whites in another." Packer's prose is wielded like a kitchen knife, so familiar to her hand that she could use it with her eyes shut. This is a debut not to miss. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The clear-voiced humanity of Packer's characters, mostly black teenage girls, resonates unforgettably through the eight stories of this accomplished debut collection. Several tales are set in black communities in the South and explore the identity crises of God-fearing, economically disenfranchised teens and young women. In the riveting "Speaking in Tongues," 14-year-old "church girl" Tia runs away from her overly strict aunt in rural Georgia in search of the mother she hasn't seen in years. She makes it to Atlanta, where, in her long ruffled skirt and obvious desperation, she seems an easy target for a smooth-talking pimp. The title story explores a Yale freshman's wrenching alienation as a black student who, in trying to cope with her new, radically unfamiliar surroundings and the death of her mother, isolates herself completely until another misfit, a white student, comes into her orbit. Other stories feature a young man's last-ditch effort to understand his unreliable father on a trip to the Million Man March and a young woman who sets off for Tokyo to make "a pile of money" and finds herself destitute, living in a house full of other unemployed gaijin. These stories never end neatly or easily. Packer knows how to keep the tone provocative and tense at the close of each tale, doing justice to the complexity and dignity of the characters and their difficult choices.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart People Surrounded by Fools=Great Stories July 18 2004
ZZ Packer's masterful stories deal with the crisis of belonging that many African-Americans face because, as individuals, people of all races, including their own, have monolithic expectations of them, which their individuality defies. Packer's characters break out of any kind of preconceived molds and faced with Groupthink, pressures to conform, and the patronization and condescension of liberal whites, these characters become infuriated by the stupidity that surrounds them. The style of the stories is intensely realistic, often satirical, bitter, nihilistic. At the same time Packer brings a deep humanity, complexity, and sympathy to her cast of misfits, all who search for belonging and never find it.
In "Brownies" African-American girls stir a brouhaha with a dubious charge of having heard a racial epithet uttered by the white Brownies. The story in many ways is a funny and disturbing exploration of Groupthink whereby the black Brownies never really heard the epithet but get caught up in the self-righteousness and mission of their revenge. In "Every Tongue Shall Confess" a cross-eyed, homely lady, Clareese, plays by the rules, reads her Bible, and works hard as a nurse, only to be exploited by her church deacons who use her as a door mat. We cringe as we watch Clareese sink deeper and deeper into loneliness. In "Our Lady of Peace" a young woman takes on teaching in a public school in order to change nihilistic, lawless high school children, but in a reversal, the children make her a nihilistic misanthropist. The teacher Lynnea Davis not only begins to despise the children, but the teachers she works with.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good summer read July 10 2004
By A Customer
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a collection of short stories about the transition of the human spirit and how the single choices that one makes can effect one's perception of the world. These stories are written with an honest voice about real subjects that are not often discussed. There's "Speaking in Tongues", about a young girl who runs away from her sheltered religious life and is faced head on with the real world. Packer's story illustrates that religion is a choice that is made with the soul and is not afraid to examine what happen when one reaches the "age of accountability". Her characters are vivid, honest, funny and best of all very real. They are all struggling to find their true identities. ZZ Packer has no trouble portraying characters that are completely different than herself. Black or white, young or old, her characters are drawn with honesty and respect. If you're looking for some serious summer fun, trying also reading SKINNY DIP and THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and thought provoking collection May 20 2004
In Drinking Coffee Elsewhere ZZ Packer provides a varied, intriguing and thought provoking collection of stories.
On the face of things, nothing particularly revelatory happens in this collection of eight short stories. And yet, each of these stories, chronicling bits and pieces of the African-American experience, is in fact extraordinary. While complex and detailed in their structure, these stories are in fact quote amorphous upon further reflection. These stories are open to a wide range of analysis and interpretation. One finds oneself pausing for a while between stories as one considers the implications and potentialities of the one just finished.
For example, take the title story, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere." The title refers to the main character's coping strategy, namely pretending to be somewhere else when the pain she is enduring becomes too much. After Dina makes the dean's dubious watch list for naming a revolver as the inanimate object she'd most like to transform into during Yale freshman orientation, she becomes a sort of self-made outcast. When she meets Heather, a doughy fellow frosh who can't stop crying over a bad night with a new guy, Dina gradually learns to let her in and wonders if their relationship is something more than just platonic. Like all of Packer's stories, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" offers no hard and fast finale. Dina may or may not be gay. She may or may not be using her outcast status at Yale as a way of coping with her mother's death. And, she may or may not be the same protagonist, again a black loner named Dina, who alienates her roommates by eating the last slice of grapefruit in the later story, "Geese."
My experience with short stories is that they are either predominantly cognitive or predominately emotive in nature.
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3.0 out of 5 stars wasn't impressed May 5 2004
By A Customer
Obviously, I'm in the minority with the reviewers here. A couple of the stories were impressive - the first in particular. But they ended in a confusing place, with not much resolved that I could see. The minor characters weren't developed enough to make it clear why they did what they did, and had sudden changes of heart. Like in the first, it was never clear why Daphne decided to be nice to the narrator - sure, she was not the kind of girl to join in bullying, but why did she choose then to start supporting the narrator? It just was not clear. Also, there was not enough information about the narrator - why she got picked on apart from being quiet? Considering all the accolades showered on the author, though, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that I missed something in the book.
I picked up the book because I was hoping to learn more about a culture that I have never experienced firsthand. But the flatness of the characters kept me from doing this. They could have almost been any color, even Caucasian, apart from the narrators of each story, that is.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Awsome
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is one of my personal favorites. Its exploration of the characters, fascinating plot and smooth flow make for an excellent read, which is why I recommend... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Peter Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Yeah, in my home . . .
I bought this book when I went to hear ZZ Packer speak at a writing convention. Until then, I hadn't heard of her, but her speech, which was titled something like, "How writing can... Read more
Published on June 22 2006 by C.W.
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely perfect
there's nothing to not love in this collection from packer, not a sentence to stumble over, not a story to discount. absolutely brillant.
Published on July 12 2004 by Jodi Chromey
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written - Too Heavy
I think that ZZ Packer is a wonderful writer. She gives vivid detail and writes clearly. Unfortunately, I didn't find the stories very consistent. Read more
Published on June 24 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Love the writing, not the stories
ZZ Packer is a wonderful writer. Her style and prose are effortless. She allows you to use all of your senses - you can see the characters, feel the weather, and smell the food. Read more
Published on June 22 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Speaking in Tongues
I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I bought it anyway. I enjoyed all of the stories besides the last two (absolutely boring). Read more
Published on June 9 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal and yet universal stories from a fresh perspective
This debut collection of eight short stories brings a fresh voice to modern fiction. The author, a young African American woman, tells some tales that seem deeply personal and yet... Read more
Published on April 16 2004 by Linda Linguvic
4.0 out of 5 stars a fresh and exciting voice in comtemporary black fiction
The stories in ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere brims with rich, wonderful prose and incredibly interesting characters. Read more
Published on April 1 2004 by bowery boy
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you Z.Z!
Having been so disappointed recently with the many books I've purchased on Amazon, it was with great relief that I finally discovered three that did not disappoint: "Getting... Read more
Published on March 20 2004
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