The Ant Generator

Winner of the 1991 John Simmons Short Fiction Award

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170 pages

"The unforgettable characters in Elizabeth Harris's stories are up to their necks in love and trouble, to borrow a phrase from Alice Walker. Reading this book is a great relief from the strain of some of the self-indulgence of the postmodern. The seams of Ms. Harris's fictional craft are not visible in her stories. They are neatly and modestly hidden from view so that one sees only the elegant polish and ease of a well-tailored suit. It is a very plain suit, sensible and serviceable, and, most important, it will never go out of style. I am struck by the kindness and humility of the narrative voice in The Ant Generator, as Harris creates the lives of ordinary people under the stress, trying to understand what Virginia Woolf called 'the meaning of life.' Harris's voice is low-key, sure of itself and very wise indeed."—Jane Marcus

"Intimate and urgent reading, Harris's stories are united by her generosity of characterization and language and her creation of agonizing realism."—Belles Lettres

"The stresses of daily life leave many of Harris's characters, in these 11 tightly focused, stringently realistic stories, emotionally numb, off-balance or grasping at straws…The best stories in this continually surprising debut collection …tap deep veins of feeling."—Publishers Weekly

"Sly, original, and never dull."—Kirkus Reviews

Punctuated with weirdly comic moments, the stories in The Ant Generator reflect Harris's view of the world as a slightly strange place with shifting, dubious boundaries. Men and women encounter the commonplace improbabilities of modern life: a woman who works in an archaeological museum dreams of order but experiences random violence, a bored schoolteacher gets into the Book of World Records by standing on one foot.

In the various interactions of mind and matter in Harris's affecting stories, people try to force their experience into simple shapes, against natural and social opposition, with comic or tragic results. Sometimes their determination to command their own meaning is redemptive and creative; at other times they confront the luminous mystery and unforgiving character of the natural world or the anger of the dispossessed. Harris sensitively creates individuals who respond to the ordinary in extraordinary ways, characters who think in dreams and visions and who, like the author, employ rare gifts.