RESPONSIBLE ADULTS, Cornerstone Press, December 2020
Booklist: “…edgy, empathically imagined, and strongly crafted…”
Chicago Review of Books: “These stories peer into the world of humanity with sharp and often devastating preciseness, pulling back the curtain on what it means to care and be cared for.”
In Responsible Adults, a mother uses her reluctant adolescent daughter as a model for her art photography. “Your mother loves you best when you are ugly,” the girl comes to believe. A stepfather attacks a neighbor boy for exposing a shameful secret to his stepdaughter. A pregnant and undocumented young woman brings new life to a failing church and its dwindling congregation. Farms fail, families break apart, work is hard to come by, and the characters in these fictional Midwestern towns are fueled by grief and hope, loss and desire. What happens when responsible adults are anything but responsible people? When they are at best, irresponsible, and at worst, dangerous?
Praise for RESPONSIBLE ADULTS
Responsible Adults is devastating, in the best possible way. McNair guides us through domestic worlds where we might fear to tread alone, revealing truths and exposing worlds peopled with want, kitchens with empty refrigerators and strange men. Children eat grape jelly with a spoon and long for ordinary lives as they negotiate adult problems as best they can. Readers are wiser and more compassionate for knowing these stories.
—Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters and Once Upon A River
The compression of the prose, its honesty and quiet intensity, earmarks a voice I find in Patricia Ann McNair’s Responsible Adults to be mesmerizing, irresistible, a graceful on-key edginess that propels each story forward. If justice were served, this collection would stand among the best as reason enough to increase the readership for short fiction. It delivers that kind of punch, compassion, and staying power.
—Jack Driscoll, author of The Goat Fish And The Lover’s Knot
Patricia Ann McNair’s Responsible Adults is a journey to a land where adults have let their wounds define them, forcing the children to become their own heroes. I read this gripping collection with my seatbelt tight, barreling from desperation to hope, danger to redemption, struggle to peace. There are writers who allow you to keep a safe distance from the lives of their characters. And there are writers like McNair, whose stories fly so low to the truth, you are thankful you can read them safely from 30,000 feet.
—Desiree Cooper, author of Know the Mother, and Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist
With startling honesty, precise observation, and a deep faith in the beauty of language, Patricia Ann McNair creates a world where the so-called adults in the room abandon, lie, cheat, steal. They’re familiar, these faults, you think as McNair traces the delicate cracks and gaping chasms of the human condition, her gaze unflinching, unnerving, watching as opposing forces collide, unleash catastrophe. Especially then. Who, she seems to ask, is left behind and why turn away? In this remarkable collection, McNair hits her writerly stride with a sureness that is nothing less than breathtaking.
—Christine Rice, author of Swarm Theory
Have you ever read a book with characters so real, so present, it feels like they’re in the same room with you? It’s a feat of alchemical magic and McNair is the sorceress here. In these pages, you’ll lock eyes with people on the margins, bent and bloodied — but not broken, never broken. You know who these people are. You see them on the street, at your job, out your window, and in your mirror.
—Giano Cromley, author of What We Build Upon the Ruins and The Last Good Halloween
In her piercing collection, Patricia Ann McNair confronts those charged with caring and protecting us, and who are–indelibly–responsible for what we become. The stories in Responsible Adults pull at the tether that winds from children to their parents, from wife to husband, from sister to brother, from stranger to stranger–always, it seems, on the verge of snapping. A young daughter charts the unsuccessful, often abusive, dating life of her widowed mother; an adult son perpetually listens for his father’s voice inside a can of beans; a daughter communicates her pain through messages on her estranged father’s answering machine; a substitute teacher tries to connect with a grieving student; a widowed minister takes in a young and pregnant stranger. In a small Midwestern town, McNair’s characters teeter between absence and yearning, stagnancy and change. Always, she treats them with compassion and care. Responsible Adults is bursting with gorgeous, gutting stories.
—Sahar Mustafah, author of The Beauty of Your Face and Code of the West
AND THESE ARE THE GOOD TIMES
Montaigne Medal Finalist for most thought-provoking book of 2017, Eric Hoffer Awards.
Short story writer McNair (The Temple of Air, 2011) proves to be an irresistible personal essayist of refreshing candor, vibrant openheartedness, rueful humor, and unassuming wisdom. …vital, confiding, potent, and superbly well-crafted essays…
McNair is a Chicagoan who writes a lot about Chicago, but her experiences elsewhere—Vermont, Iowa, Prague, Cuba, Paris—give her a perspective that finds the relatable nuggets in the pan. There isn’t always an epiphany, but she explains her motivation and her constant, openhearted wonder at her place in this world in a steady, colloquial tone. Sometimes she’s drinking coffee with you, sometimes a piece is a finished travel postcard.
In the tradition of the best essayists, McNair’s writing is marked by an honest vulnerability. She’s writing into the discovery (think George Orwell, think Virginia Woolf, think Gretel Ehrlich, think James Baldwin) instead of writing to a predetermined end. She’s on a quest, a personal journey, always a personal journey, when she steps back to take in the landscape where those hard-to-pin-down universal truths reside. Through McNair’s thoroughly modern lens, the universals seem at once fresh and familiar: our hunger for love, peace, a good meal, a cool drink.
–Christine Rice, Hypertext Magazine
McNair’s essays are challenging, colloquial, and contemplative. Her work recalls Jo Ann Beard and Mary Karr in its powerful insistence and range.
—Joe Meno, author of Marvel and a Wonder and Hairstyles of the Damned
The essays in And These Are the Good Times are so arrestingly good that I had to stop several times to marvel at how keen, generous, and compassionate Patricia McNair’s writing is. She’s put her arms around the world and embraced so many of its complexities with the great heart and wondering eye of a poet.
—Christine Sneed, author of Little Known Facts and The Virginity of Famous Men
In this heartfelt collection of essays that run the gamut of emotions, Patricia Ann McNair, with her usual wit, wisdom, and unflinching honesty, articulates all manner of crucial questions–on being a daughter, a sister, a woman, an artist, an American in the here and now; the articulations diving so profoundly into the particulars of her life that we are carried, as articulation of crucial questions usually do, to all manner of universal reflection and contemplation.
—Eric Charles May, author of Bedrock Faith
“Good,” in the dexterous eyes and mind of Patty Ann McNair, lodges itself in the details. A safety-pinned button on the cuff of a Cuban valet’s fresh uniform; the cool relief of Thin Mints after the flu; Christmas interpreted by a 400-pound cab driver. These essays travel widely through time and geography, and all are places and moments you’ll count yourself lucky to have ventured with a wry, smart yet tender-hearted guide. McNair searches for home, and finds homes instead.
—Mardi Jo Link, author of Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm
Patricia Ann McNair is a brilliant essayist. Her intelligence is fierce, her prose is luminous, her storytelling is enthralling. The collection spans decades and continents and a whole spectrum of emotion; joy, rage, heat, shock, did I mention heat? At one point, while reading in a coffee shop, the person at the next table leaned over to ask if I was okay. I hadn’t realized I was crying. I hadn’t realized I was breathing. I hadn’t realized I was even in a coffee shop—I’d been in a backroom in Cuba, listening to an old man in the next room; a bar in Chicago with McNair and her brother and the gut-punch of regret; a cabin in Northern Michigan with newfound love and unspeakable loss. My God, my heart.
—Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
Patricia Ann McNair adds her remarkable voice to an impressive list of Chicago nonfiction writers who have soared to national attention. Her style leaps from the page: unselfconsciously sexy, laced with the big questions, sporting a gritty wisdom. These essays are smart, sophisticated, writerly, and simultaneously intimate and familial. Add to this her range of literary interests and the breadth of her subject matter—dancing to jukeboxes, reading her father’s FBI files, running gas stations, working the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—and you have a collection that will absorb, delight, and keep you turning the pages.
—Anne-Marie Oomen, author of Love, Sex and 4-H
Reviews and honors for The Temple of Air
Winner! The Temple of Air chosen as The Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year in Traditional Fiction.
Winner! The Temple of Air chosen as Devil’s Kitchen Reading Awardee in Prose, Southern Illinois University Carbondale Grassroots literary magazine and Devil’s Kitchen Fall Literary Festival 2012.
Winner! The Temple of Air selected as Society of Midland Authors 2012 Finalist Awardee in Adult Fiction.
Named as a “Don’t Miss” in October’s (2012) Best Books by Caroline Leavitt for Shoptopia.
Patricia Ann McNair named to Newcity’s Lit 50 List: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012.
Chicago Sun-Times calls The Temple of Air “violently creative”…Read the full article here.
Booklist calls The Temple of Air “strongly plotted” and “hard hitting.” “McNair’s plainspoken yet imaginative, complexly unnerving, and haunting stories raise essential questions of fate and will, appearances and truth, guilt and compassion.” Read the rest here.
The Nervous Breakdown calls it a “stunning debut” and says “the bones of the book glimmer…” Read the rest here.
“…an immersive read…”: Time Out Chicago. Read the rest here.
And from Newcity: “The stories in Patricia Ann McNair’s debut collection The Temple of Air are steeped in a particular brand of hospitality and violence. They are definitively Midwestern, navigating deftly between the everyday and the disturbing, the prosaic and the poetic.” Read the rest here.
Read what else people are saying:
“The Temple of Air is a book of unusual pleasures, each story offers the reader a small roller coaster of anticipation, fear, surprise, recognition, satisfaction. This is a beautiful book, intense and original.” – Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
“Patricia Ann McNair’s first collection of fiction celebrates the extraordinary potential of ordinary lives in ways that will leave you breathless. The Temple of Air is bright, breezy, bold: a riveting debut.” – A. Manette Ansay, author of Blue Water and Good Things I Wish You
“The Temple of Air isn’t just a story collection. It’s a séance of dark secrets, a confessional booth, a therapist’s couch, a thin wall that I press my ear up against. It’s a collection of fever-dreams: often haunting, always beautiful. These are lyrical stories that sear themselves into the reader’s subconscious, and we are incredibly lucky that Patricia Ann McNair has written them. I can’t wait to read more.” – John McNally, author of After the Workshop and The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide
“Patricia Ann McNair’s stories in Temple of Air ring like a bell with hard truth told well, told in such a way that you love the sound even as it breaks your heart. It’s a rare collection that combines power and tonal authority. ‘Gritty’ is not the right word, though there is plenty of grit in the old sense of the word. Rather, these narratives are fierce, fearless, brave, as stylistically pure as Ray Carver, as hard hitting as Mary Gaitskill, as lyrically impassioned as Stu Dybek. Still, Patty Ann McNair is an original, a straight shooter with poise; a writer who writes hard stuff with grace. Even when her characters miss their good chances or hurt what they love, we feel compassion, we hear the pure note of human pathos. You won’t be able to stop; you won’t be able to put these stories down.” – Anne-Marie Oomen, author of Uncoded Woman and An American Map
“These stories speak to us in voices that are clear, urgent, tough, and shockingly wise. Patricia Ann McNair’s The Temple of Air is about the spiritual resilience of endangered children, the survival methods of battered adults, and the presence of grace even in our ruined century.” – David Huddle, author of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl and The Writing Habit
“It dawned on me, midway through The Temple of Air, that I was reading. I’d forgotten. The voices of Patricia Ann McNair’s characters whisper directly into your ear, inhabiting their stories so completely that the author herself becomes invisible, and the stories simply flow, looping gracefully backward and forward, encircling and encompassing one another like an ancient Celtic etching. And what tales these characters tell—of broken homes and broken bodies, broken hearts and dreams,but they tell them with such pathos and compassion that it also began to dawn on me why they had come to live where they do, in a place called New Hope. The Temple of Air is a wise and masterful book.”– Dennis McFadden, author of Hart’s Grove
From babysitter to bus ticket salesman, construction worker to cult leader, the residents of New Hope chase their dreams and suffer their disappointments against the subtle backdrop of a Midwestern landscape. In the manner of the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge, and the iconic Winesburg, Ohio, Patricia Ann McNair’s debut story collectionThe Temple of Air links the lives and stories of a place and its people through tragedy and consequence, blind faith and redemption. Unapologetically in your face, these tales dig into your subconscious and leave you haunted.
The Temple of Air: Order now from Elephant Rock Books
In other news: “Things You Know But Would Rather Not,” a new story by Patricia Ann McNair, has been named a finalist for the American Fiction Prize! 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes will be announced soon. All finalists will be published in American Fiction vol. 13: Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers.
AND: “Things You Know But Would Rather Not” received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest.