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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 Awsome Feb. 3 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
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 it to any lover of nice stories.With other collections like The Usurper: and Other Stories, Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, I am I am enjoying short fiction for the first time in my life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Yeah, in my home . . . June 22 2006
By C.W.
Format:Hardcover
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 make a difference," really enticed me to buy it. Make no mistake, Packer's fiction is vivid and enervating. Rather than being formulaic or banal, her stories draw compelling pictures of her characters' lives. From Dina starving in Japan in "Geese" to holly-roller Doris who confronts endemic racism in "Doris is Coming" to a misanthrope Dina who can't abandon her hardened shell in "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere," Packer has abundant understanding and compassion toward her characters. These stories are beautiful works of art, and open-ended enough that one feels as though these are living, breathing people who will continue living and breathing. Unlike so many authors, Packer allows us joint-custody for these characters' futures, which only makes them more honest and convincing.

[...]
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5.0 out of 5 stars Smart People Surrounded by Fools=Great Stories July 18 2004
Format:Paperback
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 Absolutely perfect July 13 2004
Format:Hardcover
there's nothing to not love in this collection from packer, not a sentence to stumble over, not a story to discount. absolutely brillant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good summer read July 10 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written - Too Heavy June 24 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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. Most of the characters were hard to connect with and at the end of each story I wondered why I should be interested in their lives. The author uses some humor to diffuse the weight of her subject matter but I was disappointed by the endings. The stories are well crafted but I found the characters lives a little too morose. I would recommend reading the stories in small doses.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Love the writing, not the stories June 22 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
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. However, I did not like all of the stories in this collection; in fact, I would only recommend 3 or 4. Most left me with an incomplete feeling. Many of her characters are unlikable, unsympathetic. Because her writing is so vivd, I felt I was left hanging at the end of the title story, Geese, and others.
I will eagerly await Ms. Packer's next effort, though. She is too good of a writer not to succeed.
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