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SEED WHEEL
APRICOTS OF DONBAS
Masquerade
ECCENTRIC DAYS OF HOPE AND SORROW
The Art of Absence  
|
  Joy Passanante

ISBN 978-0-9717265-4-3     $16.95  /  $18.95 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

186 pp      
PUB DATE: Fall 2004       Fiction





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Like Passanante’s other work, the stories in this volume are moving because of their humanity and the beauty of the writing. I felt that each story was a visit to a different room in the house of the soul (though there are doors between the rooms and influences move from one to another). Passanante’s writing is sensuous, in its concreteness, its imagery, and the descriptions of sensation and feeling. It is also precise—I never found an unnecessary or a not-quite-right word. The characters are sexual, and Passanate’s writing is wonderfully honest about the complexity of sexual feeling and expression. Sexuality is also their medium of expression, and the complexity of experience is reflected in the complexity of the characters’ sexual feeling and behavior. There is much wit, and there is also tragedy. This is one of those writers who, even in her more gothic moments, describes a human being in a way that makes you recognize, sometimes reluctantly, some secret in yourself.

There’s wit, variety, and imaginative boldness in this collection of stories, as well as a pleasurable richness of detail that captures different social, geographical, and natural environments with precision and grace. That attunement to place—whether the nursery downstairs from the Middle America bowling lanes or the TriBeCa restaurant with its trendy menu-of-the-minute—conveys not only the world these characters inhabit, but their consuming, poignant hunger. Though the overt subject of most of these stories is passion that transgresses the boundaries of marriage and of other familial and professional codes, what the characters act out in surprising, creative, and sometimes terrifying ways are the hopes and unforeseen consequences of the post-war suburban dream of the perfect place, the home that will satisfy every need and settle all questions. Children of the migrations that brought their grandparents from Europe and their parents from the city, Passanante’s characters, planted in an Eden meant to end desire, find themselves dreaming of other places, of cities, of the East (whether Boston or India), of transient apartments and hotels—and of other houses, houses that, no matter how familiar their mass-produced design, might just become, contain, or conceal some unknown and absolutely necessary secret ungraspable at home—perhaps that life unlived while the dreamers passed their own youth in striving to act out their parents’ dreams. So these transgressive characters break into houses, or break through their own walls with power tools—and, when they can’t do either, peer in from the wrong side of nighttime windows. For readers, these stories themselves are windows onto the unspoken reality behind the cultural promises of that time, revealing the often violent and always irreducible mystery of injustice haunting those model homes, compelling the children who grew up in them to betrayals that may only be efforts to make some sense of a guilt that precedes any crime: the guilt of being human.
Passanante’s deft touch gives rise to a short story collection that is as provocative as endearing. These stories of love and betrayal examine the ways we burn with passion and, on occasion, find it ecessary to rise from the ashes. This is a writer of great wit and wisdom, one who makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

—Claire Davis, author of Winter Range and Season of the Snake

Joy Passanante is a writer of great intelligence and poetic charm whose stories deftly lead us into emotional territory that is at once both strange and familiar. Full of the honesty and deception that is love, infused with longing, The Art of Absence explores the complex relationships between lovers, between family members, between friends. What Passanante shows again and again is how the ties that bind can be our comfort, and our despair. What we long for, what we most desire, becomes inextricably married to what we might lose. Domestic contentment and feral lust; kinship and isolation; the gaining of companionship and the loss of the self—what we see in Passanante’s unflinching portrayals are the finely honed truths and daily contradictions of our own lives.

—Kim Barnes, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Caruso and In the Kingdom of Men

Rich, layered, intricately intertwined, Joy Passanante’s stories are written with a sophistication and yet with a fresh innocence of vision that make her voice unique.

—Mary Clearman Blew

About the Author

Joy Passanante

Joy Passanante is the Associate Director of Creative Writing at the University of Idaho. Her poems, essays, and stories have appeared in numerous magazines including The Gettysburg Review, Short Story, College English, Xavier Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She has won several awards for fiction, poetry, and script writing, including two fellowships and a grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts. A fine-press collection of her poems, Sinning in Italy, was published by Limberlost Press in 1999, and her novel, My Mother’s Lovers (University of Nevada Press), was a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Award for best fiction in 2002. Her stories and essays have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes four times.

Awards

Honorable Mention: Independent Publisher Book Awards for Fiction

The Independent Publisher Book Awards, launched in 1996, are designed to bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers. Established as the first awards program open exclusively to independents, nearly 800 "IPPYs" have been awarded to publishers throughout North America.

Finalist for the 2004 Idaho Book of the Year Award

Finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s 2005 Book of the Year Award

 

Reviews

From the Pacific Northwest Inlander
reviewed by Tod Marshall

Joy Passanante’s short stories combine lyrical intensity with believable characterization and sharp conflict to create compelling narratives. Linked by the profound ways in which desire—sexual, imaginative, material — shapes lives, these vivid characters remind a reader of similar personal struggles; consequently, because of desire’s “endless distances,” the reader will sympathize with many of the characters in this collection.

Of course, the title bespeaks a central dynamic of the book. Passanante’s collection explores familial, romantic and physical absences; from the wounds left from old relationships (with lovers, family and friends) to the physical scars of breast cancer, her characters cope with these losses in ways that reveal both weakness and strength. The consequences of these conflicts rarely end in clear victories; instead, in the stories that do have a “happy ending,” her characters show readers the simple virtues in relationships (also how to practice) of endurance, compromise, and growth.

Maybe of even greater poignancy, the stories also deal with how these wounds were inflicted—how the absences that haunt came to fester in the characters. Simply, her characters desire greater knowledge, contact or intimacy, and through the attempt to fulfill—or even through that fulfillment—they come to realize that desire is not like a glass into which one can pour water. Like the narrator having an affair (apparently with full knowledge of her husband) with the young man who has helped with home repairs, many of the characters realize that initial satisfaction leads to further longing.

Besides having the ability to tell sharply rendered tales—and make no mistake about it, there are a handful of stories in this book that may surprise some readers with their candor and sensuality—Passanante has a poet’s touch for cadence and a sharp eye for detail. She is at home in a variety of landscape—those both exotically cosmopolitan and vividly Idahoan. She also has a sharp sense of humor; her dialogue bristles with believable wit.

Another fine book from Lost Horse Press (located in Sandpoint), The Art of Absence is a great read for those who are interested in characters who are exploring boundaries—boundaries defined by relationships, sexual identity and personal history. Passanante has created these conflicted characters for us in memorable prose; it’s a book that a reader will both enjoy and, perhaps, quarrel with—in other words, a book you won’t forget.

 

from NewPages.com
reviewed by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Joy Passanante’s characters know each other too well. Most of them have given up their romantic illusions and have settled into complex partnerships riddled with irreconcilable differences. “Absence,” for example, is narrated by a breast cancer survivor who has an affair with a much younger man and keeps it no secret from her husband. Why should she, when part of her lover’s appeal is that he feels desire for her despite her lack of breasts—the kind of desire her husband can no longer claim? Passanante’s great strength is that she never oversimplifies; this lover’s interest in her has a perverse logic that reveals itself when he cheats on her: “The women changed in height, weight, hair color, even tint of skin, but they all had one thing in common: The looked like little boys, chests flat as plywood.”

Other romantic relationships in Passanante’s stories are similarly complicated. In “Voyeur,” a man watches his wife’s affairs from afar, wanting to know everything he can about her, for better or worse. When she confesses, it’s not what she’s done that upsets him but her belief that of all her men, he is the one who knows her least well.

Not all of Passanante’s stories are about couples. “Reginette Red” tells the tale of two sisters, one of whom can’t seem to stop getting involved in abusive relationships, while the other can do nothing more to help than accept this and be around to pick up the pieces when things implode. The collection concludes with “Only Sons,” in which the narrator describes the long-ago kidnapping and murder of a friend whose child would now be an adult. As she prepares to board a flight at the airport, she sees a young man who is about the right age to be her dead friend’s son. She hopes to see him smile, thinking that she would recognize him for sure if he did, but at the story’s end, she says, “I saw no smile at all, only its enduring absence.”

Passanante’s vision is bleak, her eye trained on loss. These stories don’t lead to despair, however, but rather to recognition of the ways in which our lives remain rich despite the absences that shape them.