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Review: The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick


Pages: 224
Original date of publication: 1940s-1990s
My edition: 2010 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011

The New York Stories is a collection of stories that Elizabeth Hardwick published between 1946 and 1993—years that spanned nearly her entire career as a writer. Hardwick grew up in Kentucky and lived for many years in New York City, working as an essayist for the New York Review of Books. She was married briefly to the poet Robert Lowell, who after their divorce married Caroline Blackwood, leading Hardwick to quip, “he never married a bad writer.” She was also friends for many years with the writer Mary McCarthy and lampooned her 1963 novel The Group.

There is a theme to these stories; all of them deal to some extent with the idea of escape, whether a character escapes from New York back to her Kentucky childhood home or escapes a sour relationship. Although Hardwick claimed that she couldn’t write much about what she knew, this is a theme from her life that appears over and over again in these stories. Hardwick herself did a fair amount of escaping—escape from small-town life in Kentucky to go to New York.

The stories are arranged in order of publication date, and they show Hardwick’s evolution as a writer. That’s why a story about (somewhat pretentious) young intellectual women coincide with a story about an antique shop worker who disappoints his desperate girlfriend. I like the eclectic combination; there is always something new in every story. The essence of New York is very strong in these stories; and, because these stories were written over a period of nearly 50 years, it’s interesting to watch the city develop.


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