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Moe's Villa and Other Stories

James Purdy

$14.00 (Canada Yes)
Trade Paper
240pp, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
FICTION / Short Stories (single author)
Fall 2004

Carroll & Graf

A literary cult hero, James Purdy’s exquisitely surreal fiction has been populated for more than 40 years by social outcasts living in crisis and longing for love. His acclaimed first novel Malcolm (1959) won praise from writers as diverse as Dame Edith Sitwell, Dorothy Parker, Marianne Moore, and Gore Vidal, while his later books, from the award-winning Eustace Chisholm and the Works (1967) to In a Shallow Grave (1976), and Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue (1998) influenced new generations of authors from Dennis Cooper to Paul Russell. Moe’s Villa and Other Stories, Purdy’s first short-story collection in over a decade, showcases twelve new stories; from fairy tales about an opera diva whose mega-stardom is managed shrewdly by her talking cat to the little girl who runs off with a fire-breathing dragon to eat turtle soup; from a bizarre account of a desperate husband whose obsession over his wayward ex-wife leads to his fixation on a rare white dove to a visit to Moe’s Villa, a private mansion doubling as a gambling casino where lonely boys are taught the art of poker by the Native American proprietor, Purdy takes his well-deserved place in the tradition of the finest American storytellers.


James Purdy

People have no respect, no empathy for other people; they have no sense of who other people are. There’s a kind of withering away of the human sensibility, and this leads to the collapse of just about everything.

My writing is concerned with the soul, with the unknown forces of the psyche. A British writer said I write under the skin, which I liked. In a spiritual sense, the real life of man is going on inside. It’s not what he says or does, it’s something else. The only way, I think, one can get in touch with that is in dreams, either sleeping or waking...not a trance like stage, but going beyond the conscious. I think maybe that distinguishes the two kinds of writing: there is the muse kind and the journalistic kind. I feel that the stories and subjects "come" to me, because when I try to seek them, they elude me. Consequently, I don’t write for anyone. I write for the soul. If you really tell yourself the truth, you’ve told everyone. This doesn’t come easily at all. It’s all a matter of psychic energy, of getting in touch with what you’re looking for.

There are times, however, when I sit and write, and there’s nothing there, nothing comes. And I only see myself as a receptacle up to a point, as sometimes the story comes out partially formed. Then the really muscular work begins. The sledgehammer work. After the "voices" have told you, you have to hammer it into a shape that’s intelligible--first to yourself and then to others. Technique is constant practice and a kind of bleeding inside. It’s agony really because the body resists the soul. It doesn’t want to be tortured by putting some things down on paper.

My writing is both realistic and symbolic. The outer texture is realistic, but the actual story has a symbolic, almost mythic quality. The characters are being moved by forces, which they don’t understand. I’m really writing about something rather ancient that predates Christianity and Judaism. A friend calls it archetypal. Though my plays are really American myths and the language and characters are very American, they are not only about America. They just happen to take place here.

I usually write about a person in crisis, because that’s the time we tell the truth. They say "in vino veritas", but for me it’s the crisis when someone tells the truth. The people in my work discover the truth about themselves. They’re liberated from false illusions. In all my writing there is a final self-revelation which all of us try to avoid.