Parker, Jeff 1974–

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Parker, Jeff 1974–

PERSONAL:

Born January 3, 1974. Education: University of Florida, B.S., Syracuse University, M.F. A., 1999.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Office—Department of English, University of Toronto, 170 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, teacher of creative writing; University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor. Russia Program Director of Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia.

WRITINGS:

(Editor, with Mikhail Iossel) Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States (anthology), Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 2004.

Ovenman: A Novel, Tin House Books (Portland, OR), 2007.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006, and Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction, MacAdam/Cage, 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Columbia. Also contributor of hypertext story "A Long Wild Smile" to online journals.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jeff Parker is a novelist and short story writer who grew up in Florida and now lives and teaches in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has a special interest in Russian literature and has made many visits to Russia in connection with literary programs. In 2004, Parker and Mikhail Iossel edited an anthology titled Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States. As the title indicates, the essays in the collection all involve Russian perspectives on the United States, as expressed by contemporary writers. Some of the contributors have visited the United States; others have not. While there are many references to Russian and American literature throughout the works in the anthology, "the slant is sociological rather than literary," and the writers concentrate on "their personal experiences of America," commented Maria Kochis in a review for Library Journal. Kochis also stated that the level of detail found in the contributors' writings is "stunning."

Parker creates a portrait of a youth subculture of the 1990s in Ovenman: A Novel, published in 2007. "Ovenman" refers to the main character and narrator of the book, whose given name is When Thinfinger. The young people in this book hold low-level jobs, mostly in the food service industry, where they take on nicknames related to their specialties: for example, Thin Pie Guy and Pasta Dude. After working at a string of restaurant jobs in his Florida town, Ovenman considers it a personal triumph to land a position at Piecemeal Pizza by the Slice, which he considers the best pizza restaurant in his area. He takes pride in lining the pizzas up perfectly straight in the oven and in slicing them with extreme precision. He even finds satisfaction in doing a flawless job mopping the floor of the pizzeria after it closes at night.

While not working at Piecemeal Pizza by the Slice, When skateboards, rides his street bike, sings with a band called Wormdevil, and drinks a lot—to the point where blacking out becomes routine. In order to give himself some reference points upon regaining consciousness, When forms the habit of sticking notes to himself during his drinking binges. Tattoos and body piercings are an important part of the world When inhabits, but his squeamish streak never allowed him to be tattooed or pierced while he was sober. It was during one of his blackouts that he was extensively tattooed and pierced, which led to his being thrown out of his parents' house by his authoritarian stepfather. When feels good about life—until he is promoted to manager status at the pizzeria. His unhappiness with the position starts a downward spiral that includes coming out of a blackout only to find that he has apparently robbed his employer.

When's unusual name comes from the story of his birth; his sixteen-year-old mother was so exhausted from labor that "when" was the only word she could utter. "The tragically off-kilter name represents the entire mood of this coming-of-age novel," stated Andrew Kase and Matt Levin in a review of Ovenman for the Daily Orange. Kase and Levin added, "It's one part tragedy and one part biting comedy…. Novels come and go nowadays, and there aren't many that stick in your mind long after you've read one. ‘Ovenman’ isn't like that. It finds humor in situations that aren't necessarily funny and manages to tell a story about how difficult growing up can be."

A reviewer for the Emerging Writers Network Web site commented that Ovenman "should end up being taught in MFA programs as an incredible example of a novel centered around voice. That's not to say that all Jeff Parker has done is come up with a great voice…. But, he captures the voice of his protagonist (it's a bit tough to use the word hero here), When Thinfinger, from his very first thought."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 2007, Michael Cart, review of Ovenman: A Novel, p. 34.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of Ovenman.

Library Journal, May 15, 2004, Maria Kochis, review of Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States, p. 84.

Publishers Weekly, December 31, 2007, review of Ovenman, p. 22.

Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 2004, Mikhail Iossel, review of Amerika, p. 64.

ONLINE

Believer,http://www.believermag.com/ (October, 2007), Heather Birrell, review of Ovenman.

Blogcritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/ (September 14, 2007), Richard Marchus, review of Ovenman.

Daily Orange,http://media.www.dailyorange.com/ (November, 2007), review of Ovenman.

Ink Q & A,http://www.powells.com/ (June 16, 2008), interview with Jeff Parker.

University of Toronto Web site,http://www.utoronto.ca/ (June 16, 2008), biographical information about Jeff Parker.

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