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Problems with people : stories
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A collection of stories by the award-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars is set in his signature Pacific Northwest settings and explores themes of love and the human drive to connect with others. 20,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

A collection of stories is set in the Pacific Northwest and explores themes of love and the human drive to connect with others. - (Baker & Taylor)

Ten sharply observed, funny, and wise new stories from the best-selling author ofSnow Falling on Cedars: stunning explorations of the mysteries of love and our complex desire for connection.

Ranging from youth to old age, the voices that inhabit Problems with People offer tender, unexpected, and always tightly focused accounts of our quest to understand each other, individually, and as part of a political and historical moment. These stories are shot through with tragedy—the long-ago loss of a young boyfriend, a son’s death at sea; poignant reflections upon cultural and personal circumstances—whether it is being Jewish, overweight and single, or a tourist in a history-haunted land; and paradigmatic questions about our sense of reality and belonging. Spanning diverse geographies—all across America, and in countries as distant as Nepal and South Africa—these stories showcase David Guterson’s signature gifts for characterization, psychological nuance, emotional and moral suspense, and evocations of small-town life and the natural world. They celebrate the ordinary yet brightening surprises that lurk within the dramas of our daily lives, as well as the return of a contemporary American master to the form that launched his astonishing literary career. - (Random House, Inc.)

Author Biography

David Guterson is the author of five novels: Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the PEN/Faulkner and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award;East of the Mountains; Our Lady of the Forest, a New York Times Notable Book and aLos Angeles Times and Seattle Post- Intelligencer Best Book of the Year;The Other; and Ed King. He is also the author of a previous story collection,The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind; a poetry collection, Songs for a Summons;and two works of nonfiction, Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Senseand Descent: A Memoir of Madness. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives in Washington State.

David Guterson’s The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind; East of the Mountains;Ed King; The Other; Our Lady of the Forest; and Snow Falling on Cedars are available in Vintage paperback. - (Random House, Inc.)

First Chapter or Excerpt

Problems with People


By David Guterson

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2014 David Guterson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-385-35148-5



They went in late September, starting out on I-5, which she handled by staying in the right lane with ample braking distance, keeping her hands at nine and three on the wheel, and disdaining speeders and tailgaters. No problem there—he found her driving style charming enough. She was a silver beauty in a dark-blue Honda Element—one of those boxy, hip-to-be-square cars—with nearly inaudible public-radio chatter on fade, and all of that was fine, too. She wore a jean jacket with mother-of-pearl buttons, an ironed pastel skirt, and suede lace sandals. Her eyes were green, her smile was warm, and she didn't talk just to fill space. She seemed self-sufficient but not cold about it. In her politics, she was not so liberal as to be obnoxious, but not so conservative as to suggest one-upmanship. She didn't pretend to be an organic farmer, kitchen goddess, world traveler, yoga master, or humanitarian; neither was she reactionary with regard to those personas. She was green but not gloomy and, though not indifferent to approaching sixty, not obsessed by it, either. She had a good sense of humor—quiet and subtle. She didn't expect to live forever via exercise and a healthy diet. She understood that he was still in the aftermath—damaged goods—without making it central to the way she treated him. In short, so far he wasn't disenchanted. But he still expected to be.

How had this happened—this trip to Paradise? Via, that was the simple answer. The idea that he would need—he wouldn't have predicted it, hadn't seen that he would go there. But was what people did now, and actually, it made sense. It saved single people trouble and grief, decreased their disappointments and misunderstandings. Digitalized, you put yourself out there, minus the pretense that it was other than what it was. You cut to the chase without preliminaries. And the people you met were just like you—they'd also resorted to—so you didn't have to feel embarrassed, really, unless you wanted to do that together and mutually laugh at yourselves.

They'd skipped that step—the self-loathing self-punctures—opting instead for straightforwardness in a wine bar, where he told her immediately about his wife, and she told him about her former husband, long remarried. He described his children—a boy out of college and a girl still in, both thousands of miles from him—and she described her energetic twin sons, who'd found good marriage partners, stayed in Seattle, and started a successful business together, selling "hand-forged" donuts. He knew about her work from her profile, but asked about it anyway, as a matter of course: sociology at Seattle University, and doing research, right now, on social networks and epidemiology. His turn arrived: commercial litigation, specializing in securities fraud. What exactly was securities fraud? And so they got through their first date.

Their second—which he initiated, though the first had been arduous and painful—was for an early dinner and Russian chamber music. Russian chamber music was her idea, something she had enough of an interest in to have accepted, gratis, two tickets from a colleague; they might as well go, why not, they agreed, since neither knew the first thing about Russian chamber music but both were willing to find out about it. At dinner in a warehouse full of people half their age, he discovered that his date was allergic to peanuts, a light eater, and a morning lap swimmer. The World Health Organization, in conjunction with FIND—Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics—had sent her during her sabbatical, last year, to study sleeping sickness in Uganda. No, she hadn't traveled elsewhere in Africa, but she had gone to Geneva for a WHO convention in the middle of her Ugandan research, and to Dublin on her way home to see a friend with ALS. Dublin was a subject he could talk about a little. He'd played semi-pro basketball in Cork for three seasons. A minor sport there—give them hurling instead. What's hurling? she wondered genially. Golf without rules, he replied.

Did he play golf, then? Never, he assured her. Golf courses, they agreed, were a waste of water, although, like cemeteries, they relieved the eye of urban density. What, then? For exercise? He rode a bicycle to work five days a week. He confessed to dressing like a bike nerd to do it—the polyester jersey, the Lycra shorts, the waterproof helmet cover, the fingerless gloves. The fluorescent, high-visibility colors. The weekend racer's flourishes and trim. Was all of that a mistake? He couldn't tell. Self-deprecation could easily backfire. Calling yourself a geek: surely counterproductive. He shut up about bicycling and engaged her on politics: what did she think about tearing down the viaduct and replacing it with a tunnel through downtown Seattle? They ate, split the bill, and walked toward the chamber music: twilight in the city, just a little car breeze; a waif with anything helps scrawled on cardboard. "Maybe," he thought, "my chinos are wrong," but she hadn't really dressed up, either—black with a little sparkle in her sweater. Still, she had that notable feature—the lustrous head of bobbed silver hair—that would cover her when semi-formal was required, as it might be required for Russian chamber music.

As it turned out, he didn't love or hate the chamber music, had no strong feelings one way or the other about the string quartet and attractive young pianist playing Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, but he did notice something in Benaroya Hall that spurred him toward a third date. Sitting beside this new and unfamiliar woman in box seats over a corner of the proscenium, he was keenly aware of her well-coiffed hair, her straight carriage, and her hands in her lap, and he found himself excited. And scared.

Their third date was for dinner at an Italian restaurant that afforded plenty of privacy. There they broached sex in plain, honest terms. He told her he didn't know what would happen in bed. He said he hadn't slept with anyone but his wife for twenty-six years—then add on the six months since she'd died of a heart attack while in the middle of leaving him for someone new.


Excerpted from Problems with People by David Guterson. Copyright © 2014 David Guterson. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Booklist Reviews

Whether it's the utter disdain a successful son feels for his nattering mother or the unavoidable anguish an elderly father experiences at not being able to reunite with his peripatetic son, missed connections often take center stage in award-winning novelist Guterson's (Ed King, 2011) second short story collection. In 10 perceptive tales, he explores the monumental and circumstantial episodes that form the underpinnings of daily life.There are petty jealousies and niggling insecurities, long-held grievances and newly minted outrages. There are memories that blur when the past and present collide, conjuring up images of good times and bad for fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends and strangers. Through them all, Guterson's protagonists confront life's challenges with something like aplomb, if not outright skill, and in doing so, often uncover unsuspected silver linings in otherwise darkly cloudy situations. While most stories are set primarily within the familiar landscape of Guterson's native Northwest, several venture farther afield to Germany, Nepal, and South Africa to further highlight the universality of emotional connectivity. Guterson is ­celebrated for his deeply atmospheric novels, and his electrifying short fiction is equally expressive. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

PEN/Faulkner Award winner Guterson revisits the Pacific Northwest setting of his beloved Snow Falling on Cedars, though he also hotfoots it across America, then travels on to Nepal, South Africa, and Germany.

[Page 68]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews

A dispirited quality connects the characters in this second story collection from Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars), giving each such a strong sense of anonymity and isolation that the author avoids naming them in most instances. In the opening piece, "Paradise," a sixtysomething couple who meet through an online dating site struggle to ignite their new relationship at a romantic lodge but fail when the woman talks about a former lover on into the night. In one of the strongest stories, "Krassavitseh," a father and son on an emotional Jewish tour of Berlin to revisit the Jewish quarter where the father lived in the 1930s, find their guide also has a connection to the unthinkable horrors in Germany's wartime past. Retirement is not going well for the narrator of "Shadow" because he has developed short-term memory loss, a condition that causes him to miss a plane connection to see his son. "Photograph" depicts a husband and wife grieving over their grown son's drowning death, but the wife can only blame the husband because of a duck-hunting trip when the boy was 12 years old. VERDICT Missed signals, isolation, distancing oneself from social contact—all describe the emotional core of Guterson's deeply affecting narratives. A haunting collection from a thoughtful storyteller. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/13.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO

[Page 69]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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