The Stories of J.F. Powers
by J.F. Powers, introduction by Denis Donoghue
Hailed by Frank O’Connor as one of “the greatest living storytellers,” J. F. Powers, who died in 1999, stands with Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Raymond Carver among the authors who have given the short story an unmistakably American cast. In three slim collections of perfectly crafted stories, published over a period of some thirty years and brought together here in a single volume for the first time, Powers wrote about many things: baseball and jazz, race riots and lynchings, the Great Depression, and the flight to the suburbs. His greatest subject, however—and one that was uniquely his—was the life of priests in Chicago and the Midwest. Powers’s thoroughly human priests, who include do-gooders, gladhanders, wheeler-dealers, petty tyrants, and even the odd saint, struggle to keep up with the Joneses in a country unabashedly devoted to consumption.
These beautifully written, deeply sympathetic, and very funny stories are an unforgettable record of the precarious balancing act that is American life.
Powers is a genuine original. Read him...for the pleasures he bestows of ear and eye, but read him too for the supreme trustworthiness of his vision, a trust earned by impeccable craft, and by a balance perfectly struck between a cutting irony and a beleaguered faith.
In these stories, there is a lovely, travelling hesitancy, an obliquity, so that they seem to creep up on the reader....The strongest of them are surely among the finest written by an American.
— James Wood, The New Yorker
To read the first story ("The Lord's Day") in this collection is to put down the book with the sense of having read as great a short story as any ever written, and I mean by anybody: by Cheever, Sherwood Anderson, Checkov. What ease they have is in the style: there are no easy morals here, no edifying lessons, but their vigor and correctness make them delightful to read. And while they're terribly funny — laugh—out—loud funny, in spots — they're also complex and deeply serious.
— Donna Tartt, Harper's
Power's particular blend of trenchancy and bleak wit....Powers' short pieces remain more effective than his novels. His was a gift of understatement and speed, and at his best his narrative economy is breathtaking....It is a pleasure to see [them] reissued...in a single volume. For a collection that spans three decades, The Stories of J.F. Powers isn't especially long, but the work is striking, impelled by a vision that has been cleansed by deep intelligence and powerful subject matter.
— Erin McGraw, The Georgia Review