Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren

Lundgren’s Book Lounge: “Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge,” by Peter Orner

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

1 comment

Peter Orner

Many years ago, in college or thereabouts, my bookish friends and I felt like we had discovered a hidden treasure when we came upon the small, quiet, exquisitely crafted short stories of Grace Paley. Here was something new, a writer capable of revealing so much with a mesmerizing economy of words. And now we have a story collection from Peter Orner, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, that makes all those memories of the redoubtable Ms. Paley come alive in a series of remarkable gem-like vignettes.

Grace Paley

From the bare knuckle politics of post-Daley Chicago, to the inexplicable intricacies of family dysfunction, to prison and South Boston and Fall River and the joys and cruelties of adolescence, Orner takes us to places both geographical and emotional that will reverberate long after turning the last page. He describes our interior worlds with sentences that will stop you cold. Like this: “I’m lying in a grave on my own carpet. To think there are people who believe that, when it’s all over, the angels sing and we float up higher and higher. They don’t doubt. They believe. Before I’ve put on another sock, I’ve doubted the entire day.”

Orner is previously the author of the masterful collection The Esther Stories of which one reviewer noted, “Orner doesn’t just give bring his characters to life, he gives them souls.” The Esther Stories includes “The Raft,” a story that captures the essence of post-war trauma in an astonishing page and a half. He has also written two novels, but it is the challenging genre of the short-story that best showcases his gifts. As another ‘writer’s writer’ Daniel Woodrell describes it, “By casting a wide net and depicting so many and various souls, (Orner) urges us toward recognition of the transcendent.”



[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”).  He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]

  1. Debora writes:

    Hi Bill L,

    You will never believe, but i just read the last lines of The Flame Throwers and signed on here to see if you were around–and you are!

    Well. My gosh. It was great–just as you said it would be. Has what is now one of my all time favorite endings. P364–about the soul, reality, art…my favorite lines.

    Especially wonderful is the Reno story, how it is central to the telling of the other stories, what it suggests to me about women, their way of moving through the world in which they seek a foothold of their own, their way of wondering about their own possibilities, the decisions they make about themselves.

    I’m so glad you presented this book at Bill and Daves! I would not have found it on my own–the title, the cover picture…suggest violence to me, and I would likely have passed it over. There is of course, violence. But the writer’s particular treatment… intellectualizes events, makes distinctions, there is accountability of a sort, so much is self-inflicted pain, and reactionary pain–more about suffering. It was different than I expected. In every way.

    Thanks for the great pick!