McManus, John 1977–

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McManus, John 1977–

PERSONAL: Born 1977, in Blount County, TN. Education: Goucher College, graduated, 1999; graduate study at Hollins University.

ADDRESSES: Home—Austin, TX. Agent—c/o Publicity Department, Picador, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Fiction writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Whiting Writers Award, 2000, for Stop Breakin Down.


Stop Breakin' Down (short stories), Picador (New York, NY), 2000.

Born on a Train (short stories), Picador (New York, NY), 2003.

Bitter Milk (novel), Picador (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Ploughshares and Oxford American.

SIDELIGHTS: Tennessee author John McManus is the author of the award-winning short-story collection Stop Breakin' Down. Along with his second collection, Born on a Train, and his first novel, Bitter Milk, the author has quickly established a reputation for creating intriguing, colorful characters "rebelling against an indifferent and often brutal world," as Martha Kinney commented in Artforum International. Because his stories often feature young narrators, McManus has sometimes been considered an author of young-adult fiction, despite the fact that his tales often contain violent scenes.

Stop Breakin' Down, which won the 2000 Whiting Writers Award, includes several stories featuring young, sensitive teenagers or boys living through tragic situations, such as poverty, or in urban settings where their peers engage in drug abuse or other reckless behavior. "All the characters here seem to rush and tumble toward disaster," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, who described the book as a "rambunctious debut." Booklist contributor James Klise labeled the collection "impressive" and praised the author's "young, fresh voice." Some reviewers did not view McManus's follow-up collection, Born on a Train, to be quite as accomplished. Noting that the tales here "strive for authenticity and occasionally achieve it," a Kirkus Reviews writer felt that "McManus seems enamored of trapping his characters in hillbilly hell and stranding both them and readers there—for an inordinate amount of time."

McManus's first effort at novel writing, Bitter Milk, is an atmospheric tale of a Southern teenager troubled by obesity, an imaginary companion, and a dysfunctional family. Without a father, Loren Garland finds himself completely alone when his mother also abandons him to go to a clinic for a sex-change operation. Seeking refuge in family, Loren goes to several relatives for help before finding Papaw, his quirky grandfather who also recently suffered a loss. He also finds friendship with his cousin Eli. Interestingly, the novel is narrated by Luther, a character whose identity is never clearly explained, though he might be the ghost of Loren's twin brother, who died during childbirth. Kinney, in her review of Bitter Milk, found this narrative ploy to be ineffective because it "does not advance the narrative in any meaningful way." Otherwise, the critic claimed that "McManus's intricate passages of dialogue and sympathetic narration make for compelling reading." A Publishers Weekly writer called Bitter Milk an "affecting but uneven first novel." A Kirkus Reviews contributor, however, concluded that the novel is clearly "the work of a young writer still seeking his own voice," and "when McManus finds it, the results may be spectacular."



Artforum International, summer, 2005, Martha Kinney, review of Bitter Milk, p. 52.

Booklist, May 15, 2000, James Klise, review of Stop Breakin' Down, p. 1728.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of Born on a Train, p. 1723; April 1, 2005, review of Bitter Milk, p. 378.

Library Journal, August, 2000, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of Stop Breakin' Down, p. 164.

Publishers Weekly, April 10, 2000, review of Stop Breakin' Down, p. 72; April 25, 2005, review of Bitter Milk, p. 37.

Texas Monthly, June, 2005, Mike Shea, review of Bitter Milk, p. 64.

ONLINE, (September 19, 2005), "A Word with the Writer," interview with John McManus.

Emerging Writers Forum Online, (May 19, 2005), Dan Wickett, "Interview with John McManus."

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McManus, John 1977–

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