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Praise for Fire Ants

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No wonder that Duff (Phi Kappa Phi inductee at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.) won the Cohen Prize from Ploughshares magazine for the title story and was named a finalist for the Jesse Jones Award for the Best Book of Fiction published in 2007
Gerald Duff’s collection of short stories are sometimes poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes both. Duff has a talent for description, and his stories are rich with images as if Duff were painting on canvas with words.
These stories are richly observed, keen-witted and tellingly sympathetic to a wide range of characters, from a Texas whorehouse customer getting stabbed in the temple to a young woman imagined in the act of imagining herself someone else.
Gerald Duff's latest collection, Fire Ants, is the work of a master storyteller. Working in a great tradition from Twain to Faulkner and beyond, Duff crumples a reader with laughter, even as we know we are glimpsing deep truths about these strange human creatures. There is joy in this, and wisdom too, and the kind of humility that is hard won. I admire Gerald Duff's achievement, and I am grateful for it.
Gerald Duff’s great characters are all astonishing storytellers, with true and compelling voices that will ring in my head forever. This book is an American classic.
Duff’s Fire Ants compares to the work of the old masters because the material of it is the material of life: ordinary speech, ordinary activity, recognizable to all, and yet in Duff’s hands these become eternal art. The dialogue is the surest proof of Duff’s mastery.
Gerald Duff writes of what perhaps ought to be called “the New South,” a part of Texas that isn’t all that different from the Old South of William Faulkner or the stultifying traditions that permeate the works of Flannery O’Connor or the knowing comedy of the great works of Eudora Welty. That’s quite a lot for any writer to aspire to, but Duff does so with great ease and absolute assurance. ... From one story to the next, Fire Ants gets better and better as Gerald Duff quietly honors his Southern literary forebears.
“Fire Ants and Other Stories” presents 15 shorts by Gerald Duff, a native Texan and an accomplished poet and novelist whose work has been much lauded. The pieces in this collection have previously appeared in quality literary journals like Ploughshares, Kenyon Review and Missouri Review.Among the selections is “Maryland, My Maryland,” a Civil War story narrated by a Confederate soldier. As a historian, I am always interested to see how contemporary fiction writers treat 19th-century subjects. The difficulties are many and profound, not the least of them convincingly inhabiting a Victorian sensibility from the confines of this unbuttoned age. ... I found the piece absorbing, even riveting, and peppered with memorable descriptions.
The author of Memphis Ribs and Coasters returns with fifteen stories that are both geographically and temporally diverse, ranging from Texas to Baltimore and the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Duff is that rare writer that can conjure up Dixie eccentricities without demeaning his characters. Opening sentences such as “Bobby Shepard smelled bad” (“The Anglers’ Paradise Fish-Cabin Dance of Love”) and “Quentin Vest had always trusted policemen, even back when everybody called them pigs” (“The Officer Responding”) introduce us to folk who, however gawky, are never reduced to O’Connoresque grotesques to be debased for reader amusement. The scenarios likewise land this side of clever, as opposed to the gratuitously absurd. “Charm City” manages to tweak literary pretension without discounting the lure of creative writing in a story about a none-too-artistic man drawn to poetry readings. As the author of six novels, Duff has waited a long time to gather his stories in book form. Both fun and funny, but most of all humane, Fire Ants is a template for story writers seeking to balance range with unity. No one entry quite resembles another, and yet together they feel a piece of a world gone slightly askew.
Calling a short story writer a ""Southern writer"" inevitably conjures up images of giants like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty. While Gerald Duff hasn't reached that eminence, his collection Fire Ants is a fine addition to the genre. Readers from North and South alike will find much to engage them in this stimulating collection.
To a Southerner, these off-the-beaten-path folks are just that — folks. They may be different from run-of-the-mill, but you get along with them because they're members of your community and that's just what you do.Duff examines these sorts of people in his most-recent work, the short-story collection Fire Ants.
Texans are reading Fire Ants by Gerald Duff. Earlier this year the Texas Institute of Letters named this collection of stories as a finalist for Best Book of Fiction of 2007. Gerald writes with such passion about his native land–the Texas Gulf Coast–along with other cities such as Memphis and Baltimore. His stories are set in time periods ranging from distant past to present. These may be the only fire ants you’ll ever love.
What’s particularly impressive about the collection is its wide range of voices and settings, and Duff’s ability to infuse wry humor into awkward moments, or into entire stories.