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Stories and a Novella

A-SomeFunThe rambling frontier towns stretching from Colorado to California provide the setting for these eight tales of the fragile emotions that, like the intricate latticework of Western highways, both tear families apart and hold them together. Here resilient children grow up fast to balance their parents’ prolonged adolescence. A mother uproots her family with a vision of greener pastures, to tragic results; an orphaned son struggles to free himself from the lingering harangue of his dead mother; and, in the title novella, a young teenage girl raises her two younger brothers while her mother battles her alcoholism. The stories coalesce under their ironic title to express poignant truths about the American family.
Scribner. 256 pages. $22. ISBN: 0743218736

Chicago Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Nelson’s emotionally intricate stories are forthright and lucid, and her rebellious characters are no hypocrites. Down-home and unaffected, they don’t pretend to be other than they are, and the fact that they don’t coddle their children or their parents proves they understand what it takes to survive." Donna Seaman

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"How does she get such insights? How does she know so much about, for instance, people who have fallen off the edge and landed in a mental institution—about their off-kilter politeness, their immunity to sarcasm? The best writers inhabit the lives they’ve invented, and reading about their imaginary people’s fears and triumphs feels as real as lived experience." Katie Haegele

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Her people are as next-door as your neighbors; her plots feel equally familiar. Her treatment of them is what’s extraordinary: She consistently turns the flotsam and jetsam of contemporary American family life into compelling reading." Kathleen Johnson

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Nelson’s Western characters exemplify a cowboy’s self-imposed exile in their respective dry and vast spaces. And yet these are ordinary folks next door suffering quietly—or not so quietly—in familial estrangement." Lisa Teasley

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Time and again, Some Fun dares us to wag a finger at its characters—wake up, don’t you realize you’re a cliché!—but then slyly turns us into empathetic witnesses. " John Freeman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Rarely has the dysfunctional middle-class Caucasian-American family been so relentlessly dissected and analyzed, and rarely with such patience, sympathy, and verve. … This is domestic realism, with something of the aura, jarring and yet convincing, of the TV sitcom." Joyce Carol Oates

Critical Summary

Nelson’s fifth collection of fiction finds a little light around the corner. Though she’s not a writer who offers tidy solutions, instead preferring the weight and texture of complex emotions, she has at least opened the window to air these stories out with hope. Reviewers praise her way with metaphor, her rich characterizations, and, most prominently, her avoidance of cliché on the well-worn turf of American families. The only persistent criticism (which didn’t affect the overall ratings) was the cover design. It features a graphical treatment of the author’s many awards (Guggenheim Fellowship, O. Henry Prize, PEN/Nelson Algren Award), which many writers felt cheapened the book, no matter how deserving Nelson is of the praise.