Doerr, Anthony 1973–
Doerr, Anthony 1973–
Born October 27, 1973, in Cleveland, OH; married; children: twin sons. Education: Bowling Green State University, M.A.
Writer. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, affiliate; Boise State University, distinguished writer in residence, 2002-03; State of Idaho, writer-in-residence, 2007-10.
O. Henry Award, Doubleday, 2002, for the short story "The Hunter's Wife"; O. Henry Award, Doubleday, 2003, for the short story "The Shell Collector"; Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the Ohioana Book Award, Young Lion Award, New York Public Library, 2003, New York Times Notable Book, and an American Library Association Book of the Year, all for The Shell Collector: Stories; named one of 21 Best American Novelists, Granta magazine, 2007; O. Henry Award, Doubleday, 2008, for the short story "Village 113."
The Shell Collector: Stories, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
About Grace (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.
Author of books column for Boston Globe, 2003—. Contributor to Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Black Warrior Review, North American Review, and Zoetrope: All Story.
The novel About Grace was adapted as an audiobook and released by Recorded Books (Frederick, MD) in 2004.
With his first collection of short stories, Anthony Doerr at age twenty-eight achieved immediate recognition from coast to coast. "Doerr's prose dazzles," wrote Nancy Willard in the New York Times, "his sinewy sentences blending the naturalist's unswerving gaze with the poet's gift for metaphor." Tamara Straus, a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, characterized Doerr's literary ancestry as a combination of "Henry David Thoreau (for his pantheistic passions) and Gabriel García Márquez (for his crystal-cut prose and dreamy magic realism)."
The publication of The Shell Collector: Stories not only earned Doerr comparisons to Flannery O'Connor, a master of the short story, but also resulted in his being credited with the revival of the American short story itself. "In his first collection of short stories, young Anthony Doerr shows the big kids how it's done," Nancy Connors wrote in Cleveland's Plain Dealer. "And he goes a long way toward cleaning up the bad reputation some of his elders have given the short story." Connors observed in her review of The Shell Collector that the genre had of late given way to stories that were "pretentious, silly, or meaningless." Doerr's stories, however, "are polished jewels," she continued.
Doerr, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, lived in Africa and New Zealand before moving to Boise, Idaho. All these landscapes come into play in his debut collection. In the title story, a blind man, self-exiled to an African archipelago, discovers a potential cure for blindness in a poisonous snail. In "The Caretaker," set in Liberia, a man leaves home to search for his mother, who is late coming home from the market, only to stumble into a nightmarish world where he is forced to kill a man. Eventually, he escapes to Oregon, where he finds work as a caretaker, but he cannot escape the torment of his memories until five whales become beached nearby and his response to them redeems him. "The Hunter's Wife," set in Montana, tells the story of a relationship between an outdoorsman and a woman whose supernatural abilities allow her to commune with dying animals.
No matter where these stories are set, they are all grounded in nature. Straus wrote: "This Nature, with a capital N, is what marks Doerr's people. The thick green forests and whispering shores, cold rivers and jungles offer refreshment away from the pressures of contemporary society and popular culture. In their place are starker universal confrontations with fellow man and the self." Nature is the main theme in all of Doerr's tales. They are set outdoors and revolve around themes of hunting and collecting, gathering and letting go, and living as an outsider. His characters are exiles and refugees, people living on the fringe of society, like the woman who follows the sideshow metal-eater in "For a Long Time This Was Griselda's Story." The Shell Collector "is a paean to the exquisite universe outside ourselves," wrote Gail Caldwell for the Boston Globe. "Perilously beautiful, as precise and elegant as calculus, that wider place of Doerr's imagination is so commanding, so poetically rendered, that it informs and even defines the characters who wander across its stage."
Doerr also seems to understand America's predominant and yet excluded place in the world. In "July Fourth," he tells of a challenge posed by a group of wealthy American fishermen to a group of British anglers. The contest is to see which group can catch the largest freshwater fish on each continent. The losing team must walk through Times Square naked. The Americans are not really up to the challenge, but they remain relentlessly optimistic. "They would map out routes and make contingency plans," Doerr wrote, "and the boundless resources of America, its endless undulant swale, its nodding wheat and white silos gone lavender in the twilight, its vast warehouses and deft craftsmen, would unfurl to help them. They would not lose, they could not lose; they were Americans, they had already won."
The elements that recur in Doerr's short stories are also present in his first novel, About Grace. The protagonist, David Winkler, is a hydrologist and meteorologist whose career is dependent on the structure and rhythm of nature, which he understands and with which he seems to be at peace. In his personal life, however, Winkler is frightened by his gift for premonition; he is able to see the future but not to fix it. He foresaw his marriage and accepted it. When he foresees the accidental death of his baby daughter Grace by his own hand, he flees the country, hoping to avert the tragedy. After many years of self-imposed exile, Winkler returns home, unable to resist the need to learn of his daughter's fate. His "loneliness, regret, and guilt are painfully palpable," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The reviewer concluded that the novel "possesses a seductive symbolic intensity, and abounds with gorgeous descriptions and metaphors." In the Spectator, reviewer Robert Edric found this novel of the wandering outsider to be "compelling, balanced and anchored to the solid ground of the story being told; and yet with a finesse, flair and precision equally suited to its grander themes."
Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World chronicles Doerr's travels in Italy over a one-year period, accompanied by his wife and six-month-old twin boys. Serving as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, Doerr had the opportunity to go to Italy to write and lecture, but the book is far more centered on the personal aspects of his trip, from the language barrier to the challenges of juggling sight seeing with raising two small children in a foreign country, and highlighting the vast differences between Italy and his home state of Idaho. Mari Flynn, in a review for the Library Journal, observed: "More memoir than guide, this work offers an elegant and informed snapshot of Rome." John Freeman, writing for the Houston Chronicle Online, commented: "Doerr will never be from anywhere but Boise. But with this elegant journal of his year abroad, he proves how powerfully enlightening it can be to forget that for awhile."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Doerr, Anthony, The Shell Collector: Stories, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
Doerr, Anthony, Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.
Boston Globe, January 27, 2002, Gail Caldwell, "Worlds without End," p. C3.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of The Shell Collector: Stories, p. 1566; August 15, 2004, review of About Grace, p. 760.
Library Journal, January, 2002, Lyle D. Rosdahl, review of The Shell Collector, p. 156; June 1, 2007, Mari Flynn, review of Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, p. 137.
Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2002, Bernadette Murphy, "Matters of Nature and the Heart Intertwine in Remarkable Debut," p. E3.
New York Times, March 3, 2002, Nancy Willard, "Rivers Run through It," p. 7.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 13, 2002, Nancy Connors, "Young Author Masterful in Collection of Short Stories."
Publishers Weekly, November 26, 2001, review of The Shell Collector, p. 39.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 2002, Tamara Straus, "Doerr's Modern Men Confront the Forces of Nature; Debut Story Collection Is Full of Isolated, Detached Heroes," p. 6.
Spectator, January 29, 2005, Robert Edric, review of About Grace, p. 35.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 17, 2002), review of The Shell Collector.
Houston Chronicle Online,http://www.chron.com/ (July 27, 2007), John Freeman, review of Four Seasons in Rome.
Sharpwriter.com,http://www.sharpwriter.com/ (March 17, 2002), review of The Shell Collector.