Book Review: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
by ZZ Packer
Publication Date: Feb 03, 2004
List Price: $16.00
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Imprint: Riverhead Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
Book Reviewed by Linda Watkins
Short story collections that are strong and rich throughout are rare finds. Most contain one or two good stories accompanied by mediocre ones. This is not the case with writer ZZ Packers’ debut collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.
Touted as one of the brightest new writers on the scene, Packer manages, via her immense range to tug at the readers’ heart strings, sweep the mind’s sympathies and make readers think. Her deep compassion for life’s unpredictable moments is dead on and uncanny. The characters in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere are fully developed and Packers’ deft hand and profound insights are astonishing. Her superb sentence structure is almost lyrical.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a first car seat on the emotional roller-coaster of life. Every story expresses how precious little things are. Packer ultimately understands pain and she displays the effect pain has on ordinary people. You can’t help becoming involved in her stories. While reading about an African-American Brownie troop, you will learn how innocent girls confront racism. Readers will try to understand the dilemma of a young girl entering college and her mixed feelings about homosexuality. It will stun you to travel with a runaway and witness her exploitation. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere will cause you to wonder why you never noticed any of these everyday circumstances before, including the backsliding that go on in the churches.
The stories in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere present frequent and commonly encountered situations and place them in a spotlight, though some stories are not particularly memorable and will slip your mind before the next one begins. This is in part due to Packer’s smooth style which kind of lulls readers to a soothing end.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere was easy to read, but it also had a few faults. In her efforts to write insightful stories and effectively communicate her points Packer sometimes created scenes and dialogue that were unrealistic. One such incident involved the driver of a Greyhound bus toying with a passenger left behind at a restaurant. This premise was totally unbelievable and caused the story to lose the punch Packer intended to deliver. Also a few stories ended flatly, which implied some rushing on Packers’ part. However, her uncommon insight into the human mind and the delicate imagery she offers makes up for these shortcomings and kept my attention.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a wonderful debut collection and Packer makes a great entrance into the literary world with these delightful short stories. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is spunky, timely and a great change of pace. Her potential to offer more great writing is highly evident. I look forward to reading her next work, a novel, perhaps, where she will not be so restricted by space.
ZZ Packer…next time hit as hard as you can. You have it in you. Don’t pull those punches… Readers can take it!