Fountain, Ben 1959(?)-
Fountain, Ben 1959(?)-
Born c. 1959, in Chapel Hill, NC; married; children: two. Education: Duke University School of Law, J.D., 1993.
Writer, attorney, and short-story writer.
Pushcart Prize, 2004, and 2007, for "The Lion's Mouth"; O. Henry Prize, 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Shenandoah, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Southwest Review. Fiction editor, Southwest Review.
In his debut collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, Ben Fountain offers eight short tales characterized by "pointed prose, nimble revelation, some stunning description of flora and fauna, and a rueful generosity toward a string of well-intentioned bumblers who get in over their heads," commented Michael Upchurch in the Seattle Times. Fountain's characters "navigate the moral minefield of doing good deeds while being very human," remarked Prudence Peiffer in the Library Journal. In "Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera," graduate student, conservationist, and bird researcher John Blair ventures into the forests of Colombia to do research on small parrots. Blair is confident that his academic mission and earnest concern for the birds will protect him, but in short order he is captured and imprisoned by guerilla fighters. When he finally convinces them of his motives, they allow him to continue his fieldwork, where he is delighted to discover a population of very rare birds once thought extinct. His joy turns to horror when he discovers that his captors are in negotiations to sell portions of the forest, including the birds' habitat, to American timber interests. Sonny Grous, protagonist of "Asian Tiger," is a washed-up golf pro making a living teaching putting skills to wealthy, corrupt generals in Burma. His life steadily spirals out of control as he is first talked into deliberately losing games to please the generals, and then is drawn into a dangerous, morally bankrupt oil deal. Melissa is the young wife of a special forces captain in "The Good Ones Are Already Taken." She is dismayed when her husband returns from an assignment in Haiti and declares that he has entered into a spiritual marriage with Erzulie, a voodoo goddess, and that he will be unavailable to his flesh-and-blood bride on Tuesdays and Saturdays, when he has spiritual sex with his Haitian bride.
"The Lion's Mouth," set in war-ravaged but diamond-rich Sierra Leone, "is the subtlest, most complex story in the book," commented Fritz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle. Humanitarian aid worker Jill arrives in Sierra Leone full of energy and idealism, but the reality on the ground soon dulls her spark. She organizes a sewing cooperative for women whose arms were cut off by rebels, hoping to give them some opportunity to support themselves. When she suggests to her boyfriend, a diamond broker, that she smuggle a shipment of diamonds out in one of her relief convoys, with her share of the proceeds going to support the cooperative, he agrees. The convoy gets caught in a battle between rebels and villagers, however, and Jill must decide between giving up the diamonds or letting a group of innocent people be slaughtered by the rebels. The final outcome drives home the cold reality and brutal unfairness of life in Sierra Leone. Lanham called "The Lion's Mouth" the "best story in the book." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "an impeccable debut collection." Fountain's stories "have the texture and heft of novels: heavy, sensual atmosphere; the leisure of unhurried telling; characters drawn in detail," observed Bryan Woolley in the Dallas Morning News. "Short-story collections don't come much better than this," Upchurch declared.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, September 7, 2006, Carmen Lau, "Fountain Travels the Globe in Brief Encounters," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette, October 15, 2006, Sarah E. White, "Gritty Stories Show How War Zones Affect Lives," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Austin Chronicle, August 25, 2006, Michael Yang, "Readings," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Boston Globe, July 30, 2006, Madison Smartt Bell, "Quiet Americans," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 20, 2006, Tricia Springstubb, "Dark Tales of Innocents Abroad," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Dallas Morning News, August 2, 2006, Brian Woolley, "Cool Tales from the World's Hot Spots in Brief Encounters with Che Guevara."
Houston Chronicle, September 14, 2006, Fritz Lanham, "Texas Writer in a Wide World," review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2006, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, p. 482.
Library Journal, August 1, 2006, Prudence Peiffer, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, p. 78.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2006, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, p. 43.
Seattle Times, October 4, 2006, Michael Upchurch, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Texas Monthly, August, 2006, Mike Shea, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, p. 60.
New Observer,http://www.newobserver.com/ (December 20, 2006), Bridgette A. Lacy, "The Long Path to Short Stories," profile of Ben Fountain.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (August 22, 2006), Tony D'Souza, review of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.