Parker, Michael 1959-
Parker, Michael 1959-
Born February 6, 1959, in Silver City, NC; son of James H. (a newspaper editor) and Hallie (a teacher and counselor) Parker; married; wife's name, Catharine; children: Emma. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A., 1984; University of Virginia, M.F.A., 1988.
Writer and educator. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, assistant professor then professor, beginning 1992.
Short-listed for Granta's Best American Writers under 40; finalist, PEN/Hemingway First Fiction Prize; North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, 2004; O. Henry Prize, 2005, for the short story "The Golden Era of Heartbreak"; Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, for The Geograhical Cure; North Carolina Award, 2006, for contributions to literature.
Hello down There: A Novel, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
The Geographical Cure: Novellas and Stories, Scribner's (New York, NY), 1994.
Towns without Rivers (novel; sequel to Hello down There), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
If You Want Me to Stay (novel), Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.
Don't Make Me Stop Now: Stories, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including Pushcart Prize Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and New Stories from the South. Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Oxford American, Five Points, Shenandoah, Carolina Quarterly, Oxford American, and the Georgia Review.
Michael Parker's first book, Hello down There: A Novel, centers on Edward Keane, a morphine addict who lives alone outside a North Carolina town in the 1950s. Keane, the son of influential parents, fell into this state of disrepute after being involved in a car accident that killed his wealthy fiancée. He is lured out of his isolation and addiction by seventeen-year-old Eureka Speight, whose desire to hear tales of imagination is matched by Keane's desire to tell them. Keane claims, in fact, that his true addiction is to metaphors. A New York Times Book Review described Hello down There as "a serious, memorable novel," particularly noting Parker's "love of clear, crisp, pungent language." Many reviewers also commented on the similarities between Parker's prose and the writing of other Southern authors such as Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed that Hello down There contains "the same bitter humor and nihilistic denouement" as Faulkner's novel Sanctuary. A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly stated that the novel "is Southern gothic intrigue and eccentricity at its best."
Hello down There character Eureka, also called Reka, is convicted of accidentally killing Keane. In Towns without Rivers, readers follow Reka after she is completes her five-year prison sentence. In search of a different life, she leaves her Southern hometown and her closest sibling, Randall, whom she helped raise after the death of their mother. Reka travels west, and lies about her past in order to get a job selling encyclopedias. Randall, who slept with his brother's girlfriend and is blamed for the drowning of their alcoholic father, leaves home after his beloved sister, making a detour in Chicago before continuing on her trail. "The time is 1959-60, but despite Parker's splendid descriptive powers, this doesn't seem like a period novel. The journeys recorded here are largely spiritual and psychological. Besides, Parker's guilt-ridden characters have such a hard time living in the present moment that the time frame doesn't matter much," wrote Jack Sullivan in a Washington Post review.
Both Reka and Randall seek love and redemption, and long to reconnect with each other. A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised Parker's skilled characterizations and noted that in the "dark yet emotionally generous novel" the loveable characters "make horrible choices with heartbreaking consequences." At the end of the novel they finally reunite in their hometown, and disappointingly find that they have grown apart. "Ultimately, the novel is about this tenuous connection within families—and its power to heal," stated Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewer Hal Jacobs, who noted that "[Parker's] writing is starkly poetic."
In his next novel, If You Want Me to Stay, Parker lets fourteen-year-old Joel Junior tell of the troubles he and his little brothers, Carter and Tank, face. Joel's father hears voices and goes on violent rampages, and the brothers' mother and older sister have long ago fled the household. As a result, Joel finds himself caring for his younger brothers while finding meaning in his life through black soul music. When his father has another breakdown, Joel looks for help by going on a road trip to find his mother but returns home alone for a final disturbing showdown. "Parker does a fine job exploring Joel's pain," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Noting the author's "fascination with music, family loyalty, road trips, and love," Jera Salon wrote in the Literary Review that the author "tangles these obsessions into a skillful crescendo, where we see that a young boy's coming of age depends on the strong link between his family; music; North Carolina; and being forced to leave his home in Trent, NC."
Parker's short story collection Don't Make Me Stop Now: Stories features men who are leading troubled lives, such as the narrator of "The Right to Remain," who reveals how his life of alcoholism has prevented him from having a full, loving relationship. In "Everything Was Paid For," a crack addict slips into a paranoid world where he questions everyone's loyalty, including his own. "Go Ugly Early" finds a man wondering if his drinking is what led him to marry the wrong woman. Writing a review of Don't Make Me Stop Now in Booklist, Leah Strauss commented: "Readers … will certainly savor the effortless narrative flow and compelling emotional tenor." Tom Barbash wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "In the book's later stories, Parker's writing gets stronger and stranger, peaking in the frightening and beautifully written ‘Golden Era of Heartbreak.’"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, July 17, 1993, review of Hello down There: A Novel, p. 20.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, GA), September 30, 2001, Hal Jacobs, "Books: Novels Probe Emotional Connection within Families," p. E11.
Booklist, February 15, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 1036; December 15, 2006, Leah Strauss, review of Don't Make Me Stop Now: Stories, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1992, review of Hello Down There, p. 1452; May 1, 1994, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 584; April 15, 2001, review of Towns without Rivers, p. 531; June 15, 2005, review of If You Want Me to Stay, p. 661; September 1, 2006, review of Don't Make Me Stop Now, p. 869.
Library Journal, October 15, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 120; May 15, 1994, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 102.
Literary Review, winter, 2006, Jena Salon, review of If you Want Me to Stay, p. 202.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 4, 1994, review of The Geographical Cure, p.6.
New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 10; June 6, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 38; December 5, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 60; July 10, 1994, review of Hello down There, p. 28; August 21, 1994, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 18; July 2, 1995, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 16; March 11, 2007, Tom Barbash, review of Don't Make Me Stop Now.
Publishers Weekly, November 23, 1992, review of Hello Down There, p. 52; May 9, 1994, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 61; June 26, 1995, review of The Geographical Cure, p. 105; July 11, 2005, review of If You Want Me to Stay, p. 60; September 11, 2006, review of Don't Make Me Stop Now, p. 33.
Southern Living, April, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 112.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1993, review of Hello down There, p. 58.
Washington Post Book World, May 29, 1994, review of Hello down There, p. 12; August 19, 2001, Jack Sullivan, "Two for the Road," p. 9.
Chatham Journal Weekly,http://www.chathamjournal.com/ (November 10, 2006), "Siler City native receives 2006 N.C. Awards for Literature."
January Magazine,http://januarymagazine.com/ (June 6, 2007), David Abrams, review of Don't Make Me Stop Now.
News & Observer,http://www.newsobserver.com/ (July 8, 2001), John Freeman, "Two People Searching for Their Other Half."
University of North Carolina Greensboro Web site,http://www.uncg.edu/ (June 6, 2007), faculty profile of author.