Packer, Ann 1959-
Packer, Ann 1959-
Born March 4, 1959, in Stanford, CA; daughter of educators; married Jon James (an architect); children: two. Education: Attended Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Home—San Carlos, CA.
Writer and teacher.
James Michener award; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing fellowship; O. Henry prize, 1992.
Mendocino and Other Stories, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
The Dive from Clausen's Pier (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Songs without Words (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Ploughshares and New Yorker. Work collected in anthologies, including Prize Stories 1992: The O. Henry Awards.
The Dive from Clausen's Pier was adapted for audio, read by Scarlett Johansson, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2002.
Ann Packer's first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier, shot up the New York Times best seller list after being chosen as its first selection by the Good Morning America book club, one of a number of clubs that were created after talk-show host Oprah Winfrey discontinued hers.
Packer is the daughter of two educators; her mother taught creative writing, and her father taught law at Stanford University. She attended Yale University, where she took a writing course and became hooked. Her first book, Mendocino and Other Stories, is a collection of tales that take place in California, Madison, Wisconsin, Greenwich Village, and other locales Packer has either lived in or frequented.
Erika Taylor commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the beginnings of each of Packer's stories reveal the secret of each tale, but "to find out how and why that secret was born, one must keep reading." Taylor felt the best story of the collection to be "My Mother's Yellow Dress," in which the narrator begins by saying that she said something unforgivable to her mother just before the woman died, but that she did not know she was dying.
Jeanne Schinto wrote in Belles Lettres that Packer is skilled at "evoking the authentic details of her chosen milieu." The title story in Mendocino and Other Stories is about a brother and sister whose father committed suicide. They have been there for each other, without ever discussing the reason for their father's actions, until the brother becomes involved with a woman who brings the event up. Three of the ten stories have as a common theme the desire to have children. Two are about couples who cannot conceive because of medical problems, while the third is about a self-absorbed woman who pines for a child as she sees her coworkers procreate, but who is not capable of loving and marrying a man in order to start her own family. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that the tales focus on the "unexpressed emotions festering under the surface" of each character.
The Dive from Clausen's Pier begins in Madison, Wisconsin, where the protagonist, twenty-three-year-old Carrie Bell, was already dissatisfied with her life before a fateful Memorial Day outing. Mike Mayer, her boyfriend since high school, dives from a pier at a reservoir and breaks his neck, leaving him in a coma for four weeks and rendering him quadriplegic. Packer's own father was partially paralyzed, a fact that may be responsible for her sensitive rendering of Mike. Karen Valby wrote in Entertainment Weekly that Packer treats Mike's character with respect. "He remains the moral center of the book," Valby noted.
Carrie visits Mike in the hospital but ultimately escapes to New York City when faced with the prospect of caring for him for the rest of her life. Once there, she wrestles with her choices as she loses herself in big-city life. The overriding question now becomes, how much does she owe Mike, and how much does she owe herself? An Economist reviewer felt that even though readers won't necessarily like or feel that they can relate to Carrie, her character "is all the more interesting for it." Salon.com Web site contributor Suzy Hansen felt that the author beautifully demonstrates the "difference between walking away and moving forward."
Rob Nixon wrote in the New York Times Book Review that The Dive from Clausen's Pier is such a strong piece of fiction because of Packer's "instinctive sense of the way people talk under the pressure." Nixon felt Packer's writing about Carrie's New York relationship with Kilroy to be some of the finest in the book: "Kilroy is a hyperurban creature, wry, angular, somewhat depressive." Nixon also praised Packer's other male characters, including Mike's buddy, Rooster, and Mike's father. And one Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that The Dive from Clausen's Pier is "very fine fiction."
Packer followed up The Dive from Clausen's Pier with the 2007 release of Songs without Words. Told from the perspective of five different characters, the narrative centers around best friends Sarabeth and Liz, Liz's husband Brody, their depressed teenage daughter Lauren, and younger brother Joe. Lauren attempts to commit suicide, and while Liz is devastated, she is also angry at Sarabeth for not being there for moral support afterward. When Lauren comes home from the hospital, Liz and Brody respond to their daughter in different ways, which causes a rift in their relationship. Slowly, all five characters must reconcile their grievances with each other and begin to return to a sense of normalcy after such a traumatic incident. Overall, critics and readers responded favorably to Packer's novel, citing the book's realistic characters and engaging story. Packer writes "quietly distressing fiction about ordinary people," noted Liesl Schillinger in a review for the New York Times Book Review. Overall, reviewers found the book a successful follow-up to the author's debut novel. Songs without Words is "commendably ambitious and ultimately rewarding," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, Jeanne Schinto, review of Mendocino and Other Stories, p. 28.
Booklist, August 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Songs without Words, p. 9.
Denver Post, April 21, 2002, Diane Hartman, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier.
Economist, August 10, 2002, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier.
Entertainment Weekly, May 3, 2002, Karen Valby, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 80; September 14, 2007, Jennifer Reese, review of Songs without Words, p. 151.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 14; July 15, 2007, review of Songs without Words.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 25.
Library Journal, September 1, 2007, Starr E. Smith, review of Songs without Words, p. 129.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, Erika Taylor, review of Mendocino and Other Stories, p. 6.
New Yorker, October 8, 2007, review of Songs without Words, p. 95.
New York Times Book Review, May 12, 2002, Rob Nixon, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 11; September 9, 2007, Liesl Schillinger, review of Songs without Words, p. 11.
Psychiatric Times, November 1, 2002, Alexandra N. Helper, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, May 2, 1994, review of Mendocino and Other Stories, p. 302; March 4, 2002, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 54; July 23, 2007, review of Songs without Words, p. 43.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 2007, Heller McAlpin, review of Songs without Words, p. M1.
School Library Journal, August, 2002, Julie Dasso, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 222.
USA Today, September 4, 2007, Deirdre Donahue, review of Songs without Words, p. D1.
Washington Post Book World, July 17, 1994, Joanne Tangorra, review of Mendocino and Other Stories, p. 6.
World and I, November, 2002, Maude McDaniel, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, p. 211.
Ann Packer Home Page,http://www.annpacker.com (July 1, 2008).
Beatrice,http://www.beatrice.com/ (January 8, 2004), Ron Hogan, interview with Ann Packer.
Bookbrowse.com,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (July 25, 2002), interview with Ann Packer.
Book Slut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (July 17, 2008), review of Songs without Words.
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (January 13, 2008), Leland Cheuk, review of Songs without Words.
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (July 1, 2008), interview with Ann Packer.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (July 1, 2008), interview with Ann Packer.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (July 19, 2002), Suzy Hansen, review of The Dive from Clausen's Pier.