An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963
Publication Date: August 20, 2013
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A wry, moving collection of letters from the late J. F. Powers, “a comic writer of genius” (Mary Gordon)
Best known for his 1963 National Book Award–winning novel, Morte D’Urban, and as a master of the short story, J. F. Powers drew praise from Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, among others. Though Powers’s fiction dwelt chiefly on the lives of Catholic priests, he long planned to write a novel of family life, a feat he never accomplished. He did, however, write thousands of letters, which, selected here by his daughter, Katherine A. Powers, become an intimate version of that novel, dynamic with plot and character. They show a dedicated artist, passionate lover, reluctant family man, pained aesthete, sports fan, and appreciative friend. At times wrenching and sad, at others ironic and exuberantly funny, Suitable Accommodations is the story of a man at odds with the world and, despite his faith, with his church. Beginning in prison, where Powers spent more than a year as a conscientious objector, the letters move on to his courtship, marriage, comically unsuccessful attempt to live in the woods, life in the Midwest and in Ireland, an unorthodox view of the Catholic Church, and an increasingly bizarre search for “suitable accommodations,” which included three full-scale emigrations to Ireland. Here, too, are encounters with such diverse people as Thomas Merton, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Sean O’Faolain, Frank O’Connor, Dorothy Day, and Alfred Kinsey.
An NPR Best Book of 2013
J. F. Powers died in 1999 at the age of eighty-one. His two novels and a collected volume of his short stories are available as NYRB Classics. Katherine A. Powers is a book columnist and reviews books widely.
“A major literary accomplishment” —Booklist (Starred review)
“In these letters, Powers shows a winning modesty, playing neither the whining, unappreciated artist nor the man the fates have treated unfairly. Drollery abounds: If an American is ever made pope, he writes to a friend, he should take the name Bingo.” —Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal
“There are times when you want to wring Powers’s neck, but you can’t help caring about him, liking him, rooting for him....I do wish that Powers would find the readers he deserves, just as Peter Taylor did against almost all the odds, but he seems fated to be a writer known to too few, like Isabel Colegate, J.G. Farrell or Mordecai Richler. Pretty good company, it says here.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“What’s amazing, given this meandering and self-mortifying life, is how often Suitable Accommodations made me laugh….devotees of the author’s work…will recognize his voice in an instant: droll, delicious, resigned to the mass production of human folly, including his own.” —James Marcus, The Los Angeles Times
“[Suitable Accommodations] reads like a fully realized epistolary novel, by turns exasperating and poignant and always funny.” —D. G. Myers, The Daily Beast
“…observant, witty, and self-deprecating…” —Paul Elie, Harper’s
“Fascinating, funny, and disturbing.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“These vibrant letters… reveal a restless, promising writer and family man with a wry sense of humor and a hunger for literary camaraderie…this collection serves as a touching portrait of one writer’s struggle.” —Publishers Weekly
“One of the funniest, most socially exact, heartrending and thoroughly enjoyable writers alive.” —Jonathan Raban, The Sunday Times (London) “I see no limit to his possible achievement.” —Evelyn Waugh, CommonWealth