Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction
New York Times Editors’ Choice
University of Massachusetts Press
Cover artwork by Celeste Nelmes.
Heavier than Air
Winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Set mostly in rural Minnesota, this debut collection's stories are aching, spare studies of survival and desire. . . . Several of the central characters are girls growing up in the 1960s and '70s who struggle with secret longings for other girls, and their passionate awakenings are an undercurrent to the adults' foggy fatigue. In several stories, the simplest acts—even just noticing one's breath—become wondrous moments that push characters past anguish to reclaim their ‘bright, insistent, blooming' lives. Darkly funny, compassionate, and unsentimental, these quiet stories offer memorable, rarely seen views of midwestern life."
"Throughout this collection, which was plucked from a pile of 300 manuscripts and awarded the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction, Caspers details the many ways reality can interfere with our dreams. . . . Many of Caspers's stories are set in Minnesota's cattle and dairy country, and all of them traffic in the kind of Midwestern realism that doesn't rely on pyrotechnics to generate dramatic heat. Throughout, Caspers's people—it's difficult to consider some of them mere characters—question the decisions they've made or the ones they refuse to make. There's nothing flashy about Caspers's prose; like the beauty of the prairie itself, its attraction lies in details seen up close."
"The elegantly crafted short stories . . . quietly buzz with life and secrets, like a hot summer afternoon in Midwestern farm county. There is a thread of longing that moves through the stories, as the characters watch their dreams decompose under reality's harsh glare. . . . Caspers is a careful, unsentimental and highly skilled writer. . . . Like Anne Tyler, another Minnesota-born writer, Grace Paley and to a lesser extent Flannery O'Connor, Nona Caspers digs beneath the surface to examine the small details and then brings them to life in this quiet, but lovely collection of stories."
"Revving up Willa Cather's naturalism and lesbian undertones with Denis Johnson's deadpan Plains rowdiness, these are like alt-country songs, tales of wild but not wild-eyed girls and women as likely to be enraptured by the girl next door as by the lay of the land. The prose is exact, unsparing, unsentimental. . . . Caspers' pungent voice, her fairness to city and country mores, and the artful arrangement of her tales reward rereading. Simplicity this precise takes time, talent and considerable cultivation."