Originally published in 1998 and now a classic, Thirst heralded the arrival of Ken Kalfus, one of the most inventive, playful, and finely-tuned craftsmen the short form has seen. Witty and fantastical, hip and wise, Kalfus’ stories bring wonder and imagination into the realm of experience.
These stories mine a vast terrain of geography and metaphor—from the whimsical postmodern playfulness of “Notice” to the unselfconscious sense of wonder in “Bouquet”—sketching portraits of people caught in the seismic collision of cultures, be they real, hallucinated, dreamed, or desired. As the New York Times noted, “Kalfus reminds us that the short story is not an easily contained form, a single thing done in a single way.”
With his inimitable combination of the “comic, surreal, and nostalgic” (Oregonian), Kalfus is one of America’s great contemporary writers, and this collection is a major work of lasting significance.
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Praise and Prizes
“Thirst is the most exciting story collection since George Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline; and Ken Kalfus is an important writer in every sense of ‘important.’ There are hip, funny writers, and there are smart, technically innovative writers, and there are wise, moving, and profound writers. Kalfus is all these at once, and the stories in Thirst manage simultaneously to delight, impress, provoke, and redeem. Three cheers and then some.”
“Thirst eludes all attempts at categorization save this one: It’s the most accomplished first book I’ve read all year.”
“Ken Kalfus reminds us that the short story is not an easily contained form, a single thing done in a single way.”
“Ken Kalfus’s stories are genuinely magical, that is, the transformations they work are real, not illusions. Thirst is a collection steeped in wonder.”
“Slyly subversive . . . Ken Kalfus unerringly recognizes the comedy inherent in our quandaries of knowing and being, and suggests that laughter best quenches existential thirst.”
“It’s a rare writer who can combine keen, grounded, psychological observation with visionary headiness, who can make you feel a character’s acute cultural dislocation without ever stooping to lectures—and an even rarer writer who can meld all of these elements into sinuous, powerful whole. . . . It’s exhilarating to discover a young writer with so much range and so little self-consciousness about exploring it.”
“Ken Kalfus himself is more shaman than politician—even when his stories rub up against geopolitical borders, he takes to the spiritual and dissolves them into magic. In this beautiful, varied volume of 14 stories and ‘routines,’ the well-traveled author launches himself far afield to tell his tales.”