Spit Baths


Title Details

Pages: 192

Trim size: 5.250in x 8.000in



Pub Date: 04/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4218-4

List Price: $21.95

Spit Baths


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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

With a reporter's eye for the inside story and a historian's grasp of the ironies in our collective past, Greg Downs affectionately observes some of the last survivors of what Greil Marcus has called the old, weird America. Living off the map and out of sight, folks like Embee, Rudy, Peg, and Branch define themselves by where they are, not by what they eat, drink, or wear.

The man who is soon to abandon his family in "Ain't I a King, Too?" is mistaken for the populist autocrat of Louisiana, Huey P. Long—on the day after Long's assassination. In "Hope Chests," a history teacher marries his student and takes her away from a place she hated, only to find that neither one of them can fully leave it behind. An elderly man in "Snack Cakes" enlists his grandson to help distribute his belongings among his many ex-wives, living and dead. In the title story, another intergenerational family tale, a young boy is caught in a feud between his mother and grandmother. The older woman uses the language of baseball to convey her view of religion and nobility to her grandson before the boy's mother takes him away, maybe forever.

Caught up in pasts both personal and epic, Downs's characters struggle to maintain their peculiar, grounded manners in an increasingly detached world.

The American short story is in fine hands with Greg Downs and Spit Baths. The stories are often funny, always deft. Here, the conundrums of American life and family are put in bold relief. Readers are in for a treat.

—Christopher Tilghman, author of Roads of the Heart

Always engaging, at times compelling, Spit Baths is both thoroughly original and completely authentic. Greg Downs unifies these disparate stories through their tone—deadpan, informed with preternatural wisdom, so real they verge into surreal. Working from events stranger than fiction, he explores the hard truths at the edges of our lives, especially regarding the lingering scars of racism. In the process, he draws back a curtain to reveal a world in which people are always searching, never finding someone or some place they can call home.

—Fenton Johnson, author of Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey

Rich and mesmerizing collection of short fiction.

Philadelphia Inquirer

[Downs's] prose is evocative and finely tuned to his gritty material, and his narratives illuminate his characters and their concerns while acknowledging that the social forces that inform both are impossible to explicate, not because they are too far outside the reader's experience but, rather, because they are too close.

Virginia Quarterly Review

Downs writes with a Southern twang. . . . Themes and symbols tend to recur: state lines spell betrayal, kids are in the care of grandparents. But there's immense heart to Downs's quirky but controlled storytelling.

Philadelphia Magazine

A strong sense of style and unfaltering command of his material allow Downs to take the kinds of risks in tone and subject that make his debut a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.

Publishers Weekly

[Spit Baths] demonstrates nicely the strange beauty of Downs's imagination. . . . [Downs] is a writer to watch. His work has a cerebral, surreal element.

Kirkus Reviews

In his tales of historical intrusion, Downs also speaks elegantly of those ugly histories, namely of racism and hatred, that we'd rather forget, and paints a hopeful portrait of the role family can play in healing those wounds . . . Downs is gifted at presenting the tension that accompanies familial love—be it the bafflement those tied by blood feel at the depth of their attachment, or the anxiety those bound by choice feel when realizing affection alone may not hold them together. His historical scope serves to enliven, not obscure, this uncertainty.

San Francisco Chronicle


Paterson Poetry Prize, Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College

About the Author/Editor

GREG DOWNS has been the least successful high school varsity basketball coach in Tennessee, the editor of a muckraking weekly newspaper on Chicago's South Side, a karaoke performer profiled in the Boston Phoenix, and a reporter on the tail of a fugitive cult leader. A graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is an assistant professor of history at the City College of New York. Downs's stories have appeared in such publications as Glimmer Train, Meridian, Chicago Reader, and Sycamore Review.