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The Empire of the Dead

, 272 pages

1 halftone

October 2014



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The Empire of the Dead

In the spare and deliberate stories in The Empire of the Dead, through situations both comic and bluntly melancholy, the future remains open for people—but at an indeterminate cost. Daily, characters weigh their indecision against the consequences of choice.

Through a series of five linked stories, we meet Bern, a New York City architect yearning for a return to "first principles"—the "initial euphoria, the falling-in-love" that led him to consider a life devoted to sheltering others. In his ministrations to colleagues and friends, his memories of magical building feats now in the past, he learns the limits and the expansiveness of joy and need.

In another tale, we meet a young painter in a Gulf Coast refinery town struggling to differentiate beauty from affliction. His sister’s encounter with the singer Janis Joplin causes him to reconsider the nature of saintliness.

And in the novella "The Magnitudes," a planetarium director, grieving over the unexpected loss of his parents, must learn how much of the universe—both the real sky beyond his reach and the firmament cast upon the planetarium dome—he can control. Like the other characters in Tracy Daugherty’s masterful collection, he moves through spaces at once sacred and spoiled, within cities, deserts, and other strange environments, reckoning, taking soundings, trying to find firm footing in the world.

Tracy Daugherty is the author of five short story collections, four novels, a book of personal essays, and two biographies, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme and Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller. He has been a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"In this new collection, Tracy Daugherty is the maestro of middle age, and his recurrent character, Bern, is an everyman of modern times. Daugherty writes with great skill, empathy and humor of Bern's travails and longings. The Empire of the Dead is a superb book of stories that will burnish Daugherty's already formidable reputation as a contemporary master of short fiction."

"While Tracy Daugherty’s intricate, intriguing, and interconnected stories in The Empire of the Dead are relentlessly narrative they invoke Donald Barthelme’s observation that collage is the art form of the century. These rich fictions are amalgams, jeweled aggregates, beautiful breccia that sculpt the word, matrix by matrix, into lyric concreteness. Like Barthelme, Daugherty works the leading edge of this gorgeous junk phenomena, transforming these complex meditations of our states of being into wholly new and sublime states of matter."

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