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Amor and Psycho
Cover of Amor and Psycho
Amor and Psycho
Stories
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From the author of Daughters of the Revolution and The Bostons (winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for fiction) come eleven stories about sex and death, violence and desire, love and madness, set in a vast American landscape that ranges from the largest private residence in Manhattan to the lush rain forests and marijuana farms of Northern California.

In "Francis Bacon," an aspiring writer learns essential lessons from an aging pornographer. In "The Snake," a restless Jungian analyst sheds one existence after another. In "The Boundary," a muralist falls in love with a troubled boy from the rez. In the surreal "She Bites," a man builds an architecturally distinguished doghouse as his wife slowly transforms. And in the transcendent, three-part title story, two best friends face their strange fates, linked by a determination to wrest meaning and coherence from lives spiraling out of control.

At once philosophical and compulsively readable, Amor and Psycho dives into our darkest spaces, confronting the absurdity, poetry and brutality of human existence.

This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.

From the author of Daughters of the Revolution and The Bostons (winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for fiction) come eleven stories about sex and death, violence and desire, love and madness, set in a vast American landscape that ranges from the largest private residence in Manhattan to the lush rain forests and marijuana farms of Northern California.

In "Francis Bacon," an aspiring writer learns essential lessons from an aging pornographer. In "The Snake," a restless Jungian analyst sheds one existence after another. In "The Boundary," a muralist falls in love with a troubled boy from the rez. In the surreal "She Bites," a man builds an architecturally distinguished doghouse as his wife slowly transforms. And in the transcendent, three-part title story, two best friends face their strange fates, linked by a determination to wrest meaning and coherence from lives spiraling out of control.

At once philosophical and compulsively readable, Amor and Psycho dives into our darkest spaces, confronting the absurdity, poetry and brutality of human existence.

This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Chapter One- Franics Bacon

    In the early eighties, I often spent afternoons at Bob's House, which is what everyone called the twenty-thousand-square-foot Beaux-Arts mansion on East Sixty-seventh Street, said to be the largest private residence in Manhattan. There were always women there, always called "girls," and Laya looked like all of them to me—soft, fat, seventeen-year-old eager-to-please mouth breathers who signed their contracts with made-up first names and requested, for their take-out lunch, Classic Americans from Burger Heaven. Having grown up poor in a small town myself just three or four years ahead of Laya and her ilk, I felt the pinch of proximity as we strove upstream together toward what I hoped would become a vast gulf between these girls and me. Meanwhile, I lived in terror of being mistaken for one of them. To guard against losing my edge (I hoped to become a writer), I'd refused to take a serious job, preferring the professional twilight zone of the men's magazine industry. The vulgarity of the writing assignments didn't bother me; I imagined myself in the position of the Isaac Babel character in his story "Guy de Maupassant" and considered myself lucky that, with my English major and thirty WPM, I hadn't been forced to become a gofer at a fashion magazine. I also enjoyed Bob's blurred, autocratic presence, his white shirt unbuttoned to the belt of his sharkskin slacks, the chains around his neck, the long gray chest hair. His empire was worth $300 million that year; he was nearly at the height of his power to shock.

    At that time, I needed little, apart from interesting experience, in order to live. While working for Bob, I subsisted on fancy lunches paid for in company scrip, and free cock- tails and hors d'oeuvres at openings for artists the company knew.

    My responsibilities entailed exactly what we were doing on this day: traveling across town to Bob's House, listening to Bob's orgiastic creative direction, then putting words into the mouths of Babes. Later, from a gray-carpeted cubicle on Broadway near Lincoln Center, I would create implausible erotic monologues (based on implausible true-life experiences) that suggested unspeakably childish innocence, the slight resistance one might encounter parting a raw silk curtain in the dark, accompanied by some subtle but binding statement of adult acquiescence. What better training for a writer than inventing little stories, arousing a casual reader with ordinary language thrillingly unspooled? The story arc was simple, sexual: foreplay, action, climax, denouement. Not that I supposed the men who read our magazine required much in the way of denouement; most of them probably closed the book once they'd spunked. The magazine took great pains—wasted—to expose corporate and government crimes and cover-ups. (We hated cover-ups!) We published the steamier fictions of Roth and Oates.

    Working for Bob made me feel like a real writer, commissioned, dared: Give me twenty-four hours and I could give you a story about a lonely coed and a washing machine that could leave you breathless and satisfied.

    Exposure to Bob's antiquities and follies had awakened my capacity for judgment. I felt contemptuous of every lapse in his taste—the carved marble toilets, the glazed fabrics, the white piano, the gallons of gilt. (My own shotgun flat, which I shared with my old college friend Mira, contained no furniture we hadn't plucked from the street. It was here in this studio, with its cold radiators and scuttling cockroaches, where I did my "real" work at night, brutally scribbling over fresh drafts of my austere prose poems.)

    We traveled by taxi...

About the Author-
  • Carolyn Cooke's Daughters of the Revolution was listed among the best novels of 2011 by the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker. Her short fiction, collected in The Bostons, won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and has appeared in AGNI, The Paris Review and two volumes each of The Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 3, 2013
    Psyche, rechristened Psycho by high school “witchy girls,” is the star of the local poetry slam team. Psycho is smart, funny, and maybe a little psychic, and though she’s been known to adjust facts “for realistic effect,” as the narrator tells us, she is instantly likable. Which makes it hard not to miss her when her story morphs into those of two other women in her town, a foggy place up the coast from San Francisco where “poetry is a blood sport.” In her second story collection (after The Bostons), Cooke delivers tales of cancer; bosses who stop paying their employees; a teacher and her Native American charge, both with boundary issues; an ambitious young writer who works for a Hustler-like magazine; and a mysterious culture, the Mezima-Wa. Cooke’s stories twist and turn, playing games with language. They don’t stop where you think they will (or, sometimes, where you think they should), and even when they disappoint (as in “She Bites,” a note-perfect reckoning between man and contractor, form and function, that turns into magical realism 101), they leave you with something: shards of phrases; a lifetime of attitudes conveyed in a word or an aside; or odd, perfect details that stick in your mind. Agent: Laurie Fox, Linda Chester Literary Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2013
    Erotic, whimsical, profound--almost all of Cooke's stories illustrate what Matthew Arnold terms "the eternal note of sadness." In "Francis Bacon," the narrator hangs out at "Bob's House...the largest private residence in Manhattan," an obvious allusion to Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse magazine. He's hired the narrator to shape up the quasi-erotic ramblings of the feckless Laya, who breathlessly serves as the "grand prize" in a contest Bob dreams up. "Aesthetic Discipline" introduces us to Karim Brazir, the narrator's "alluring, sexy, [and] passionate" lover, who takes her to visit his home in Hell's Point, Long Island, for a weekend or two. There, she comes up against the sensibility of Karim's ultramodernist parents, who inhabit a house with black bathrooms and minimalist furniture. Although the relationship with Karim doesn't last, the narrator is in equal parts fascinated by and empathetic with Karim's father, who's suffering from a terminal illness. One of the best stories in the collection is the eponymous "Amor and Psycho," which features a pair of memorable adolescents. Psyche, who renames herself "Psycho" during her freshman year of high school, is a poet who freestyles brilliantly, though she readily admits her friend Harald Bugman is even "more whacked and brilliant" than she is. After she accidentally runs over a baby in her car, Psycho does community service, which she loves, since "corrupting youth was the best and purest thing in her life." The second part of the story features Georgie, the best friend of Harald's mother, Babe, who's trying to hang onto a life in which she deals with cancer and chemo. Cooke writes with passion, empathy and considerable humor as her characters face life-changing issues of divorce, illness, self-destruction and impending death.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2013
    Author of the acclaimed debut novel "The Daughters of the Revolution", Cooke also excels in the short form; "The Bostons" garnered the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. The characters here include friends dealing with cancer and suicide to a husband building a doghouse for his wife as she slowly goes canine.

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2013
    PEN/Bingham Award winner and National Endowment of the Arts fellow Cooke (Daughters of the Revolution, 2011) presents an edgy collection of powerful, engaging, offbeat stories filled with characters who are appealing without being likable. The stories span a range of time and geography, some specified, some enticingly vague, some totally suspect. Sexual relations are plentiful, but, more often than not, they are passionless and banal. Marriages are seldom stable, and illness, mental and physical, is a haunting presence. Francis Bacon chronicles a seemingly wild but actually quite dull lifestyle. In The Snake, Dr. Drema remakes herself with a freedom that defies real life. Breast cancer recurs in several stories, with the character Georgie popping in and out. Isle of Wigs depicts the struggle to maintain control as the world rapidly spins away. Amor and Psycho is a complex, three-part tour de force. And the final story, Among the Mezima-Wa, is so outrageous one imagines Cooke's glee in writing it. This is the product of a mature and considerable talent and should be enjoyed, but not taken lightly.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • The Boston Globe "Taut and gorgeous . . . Cooke approaches the subjects of sex and death, desire and illness, and the borderland between sanity and madness, civilization and the wild with a directness that is both disarming and enthralling . . . Her willingness to follow her characters to places of mystery, wonder, pain and confusion makes the experience of reading these intense, remarkable stories a deeply empathic one." --San Francisco Chronicle "Wondrous . . . Within each shadowy narrative, author Carolyn Cooke creates a wholly original voice, perspective, and set of circumstances, making for an altogether rich and remarkable read . . . As all of Cooke's characters endure the grueling work of letting go, they are occasionally granted redemption, but for the reader, the journey always proves rewarding." --Aritzia "Preoccupied by the mutating relationship between surface and depths, what appears to be and what's hidden . . . Leavened with mordant humor . . . Cooke's vigorous language is its own reward."
  • Miami Herald "Cooke's trademark incisiveness is right there on the page, undeniable . . . Cooke creates characters as if from the inside out. They live urgently and intimately . . . because the author infuses them with such telling detail . . . Cooke challenges readers and rewards us in surprising and lovely ways." --Portland Press Herald "Sex and death go hand-in-hand in Cooke's new book. Many of the eleven stories explore the inflamed needs of fading bodies. But Cooke's wit and heart enliven such somber material. Her clear, careful prose communicates understanding without resorting to cynicism or sentimentality."
  • Library Journal "Carolyn Cooke's writing is addictive. Her prose is so compulsive and flavorful, you can almost feel it in your bloodstream . . . Cooke's stories do not just confront realities: they grab them, pinch them, knead them, and then hand them over to the reader--who devours each story and is left with cravings for more." --Bustle.com "Erotic, whimsical, profound . . . Cooke writes with passion, empathy, and considerable humor as her characters face life-changing issues of divorce, illness, self-destruction, and impending death." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Cooke's new collection is one of the very best of 2013 . . . Cooke's stories twist and turn, playing games with language . . . They leave you with something: shards of phrases; a lifetime of attitudes conveyed in a word or an aside; or odd, perfect details that stick in your mind." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "An edgy collection of powerful, engaging, offbeat stories . . . The product of a mature and considerable talent." --Booklist "Cooke takes readers to various cultures and times to examine the anxiety, hopes, struggles, and, above all, the ever-present human quest for love and acceptance . . . A definite page-turner, leaving the discerning reader with memorable character upon which to reflect . . . Cooke keeps readers aware of the travails and triumphs of their humanity."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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