THE BOOK: The Fourth Corner of the World: Stories
PUBLISHED IN: 2018
THE AUTHOR: Scott Nadelson
THE EDITOR: Victoria Barrett
THE PUBLISHER: Engine Books
SUMMARY: The stories in The Fourth Corner of the World revolve around self-imposed exile, both physical and emotional; they explore characters who abandon their lands of origin, sever their roots, make distance between themselves and the people they once were. Interspersed with three personal stories—embellished autobiography—they roam geographically and historically, chronicling, among others, a group of Jewish utopians in 1880s Oregon, a would-be assassin in 1920s Paris, a fundraiser for the Zionist underground in 1940s Helsinki, and a pair of teenage girls seeking revenge in 1980s New Jersey.
THE BACK STORY: These stories came together over a period of about three years, and for a long time I didn’t know if I was writing one book or three different books. Some of the stories were autobiographical, some were historical; some took place in New Jersey, some in Oregon, others in Europe. Only after I’d written most of them and started putting them side by side did I begin to recognize that they all shared a common obsession with questions of exile and belonging. The characters have all willingly escaped in some way from the place where they began, and the result is a combination of fulfillment and alienation. And now, looking back on the process, it makes sense to me why these themes were so present for me while I wrote: I started the book just about the time when I had lived in Oregon longer than I’d lived in New Jersey, the place I’d escaped from and the place my imagination returns to most often when I sit down to work.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title refers to a line in the Hebrew bible, in which one of the prophets (Isaiah, I think), predicts that the future Messiah will one day gather all the outcasts and exiles from the four corners of the earth. I used it for the title story—based on a true story—in which a group of young Jews from the Ukraine form a utopian colony in the wilds of 1880s Oregon. At that time, Oregon must have seemed the most far-flung corner of the world, the last possible place they could have imagined themselves—and while they found a certain freedom there, they also discovered that they were largely bound to the place and people they’d left behind.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I’d like to think there’s a bit of something for everyone in this collection—revenge and adventure, the intimacy of autobiography, a dose or two of humor. Above all, though, I hope the book finds its way to aficionados of the short story form, which is my abiding literary love. To me, nothing is more satisfying than a well-made story, which often packs the punch of a novel in a sliver of its size—or as William Blake put it, illuminates the whole world in a grain of sand.
“A story collection that effortlessly bridges time, offering us a glittering trail of human experience. Scott Nadelson is equally at home in an immigrant’s Paris after WWI as he is an American temp worker’s search for love and meaning. Tender, brimming, beautiful stories of displacement and revival.” —Dominic Smith, author of THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS
“Scott Nadelson’s wide-ranging, vividly imagined stories ring with authenticity, humor, and unavoidable heartache. Nadelson’s stories expose emotional lives with…is there such a thing as brutal and lyrical honesty? The Fourth Corner of the World is a collection of gorgeously written, truth-soaked stories.” —Adrianne Harun, author of A MAN CAME THROUGH A DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN.
“With grace, ease, and astounding sensitivity, Nadelson squires us through a dazzling array of human experience and emotion reminding us again the power and majesty of great stories. Each story burns with an interior light, illuminating the cracks within the characters and the hope that keeps them going. Nadelson’s confident and assured voice marks him as a masterful storyteller.” —Gina Ochsner, author of THE HIDDEN LETTERS OF VELTA B.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Scott Nadelson grew up in northern New Jersey before escaping to Oregon, where he has lived for the past eighteen years. He has published three previous collections of short stories—Aftermath, The Cantor’s Daughter, and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories—and a memoir, The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. His most recent book is an episodic novel, Between You and Me (Engine Books, 2015). He is the winner of the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award, and the Oregon Book Award for short fiction, and his work has been cited as notable in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays anthologies. Nadelson teaches creative writing at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program at Pacific Lutheran University.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Excerpt from the story “Temporary Salvation”:
For three days I helped an internet travel firm move into new offices, loading and unloading files and arranging them in polished mahogany cabinets, while a stout secretary kept close watch on me, skeptical, I suppose, about my knowledge of the alphabet. Then for a week I worked in the downtown office of a lumber company, transferring several thousand handwritten insurance claims into an electronic database. Most of the claims concerned a cedar siding that had buckled or warped, and the company’s lawyers were disputing every single one of them. For each entry, I had to check a box marked “In Process,” which I took to mean in the process of being disregarded.
I sat at a makeshift desk in the middle of the sales floor typing dates and figures and listened to four barking salesmen pushing that same siding onto wholesalers up and down the coast. After a few days I made a joke about it—“You guys must moonlight for Allstate”—but none of them laughed. In fact, not one even acknowledged that he’d heard me, and during my week-long tenure none spoke more than three words to me. It was unnerving to be so thoroughly ignored, though I sat less than ten feet from all of them, at a folding table beside the printer, the stack of unresolved claims beside me. It was as if they couldn’t see anyone who didn’t dress as they did, in khakis and baby-blue dress shirts, college football jackets draped over the backs of their chairs. All day they talked over my head without addressing me, and more than once one or another bumped into me on his way to the bathroom. To get back at them I occasionally added an extra zero to the figures in the claims. It was a quiet, half-hearted rebellion, but one that helped me survive the plodding hours and the cramping in my hands.
This was the summer of 1999, soon after I’d arrived in Portland. Jobs were fairly easy to come by then. The newspapers loved to print stories about people my age—twenty-six—cashing in on stock options at internet start-ups and opening charitable foundations. But I knew nothing about the internet—I’d only recently gotten my first email account—and the only stocks I owned were dull ones in which my parents had invested my bar mitzvah money, like General Electric and AT&T. Instead of making my fortune, I’d spent the last few years in a graduate program that had left me with few practical skills and little ambition. Other than the occasional fantasy about lucrative book contracts and international prizes, I had no clear vision of my future. That it was so open to possibility, so entirely free and undetermined, I found mostly exhilarating, though some nights I lay awake until almost dawn trying to picture what the coming days would bring, the coming months and years.
I read the classifieds line by line and replied to any listing for which I felt even the slightest bit qualified. In a single day I’d apply to serve in the admissions office of a nearby community college and to manage the publicity department of the National Psoriasis Foundation. I didn’t know what psoriasis was, and after looking it up, didn’t think it needed much publicity, but if someone wanted to pay me a starting salary of thirty-five grand, I wasn’t going to turn him down. I sent out two or three dozen résumés in a week, without keeping any records, and then lay on my couch reading short story collections and slim European novels in which little happened—women looking out windows, men walking briskly in the rain—and occasionally glanced up at the phone, only vaguely curious to find out when the direction of my life would announce itself.
But after a couple weeks without news, I began to experience the mild itch of impatience—along with an aggravating worry about paying rent without my parents’ help—and called the first employment agency I came to in the phone book. I took the tests for word processing and spreadsheet programs, but it turned out I didn’t know what a mail-merge was or how to add the contents of a column, and I scored in the twenty-fifth percentile. “Well,” the recruiter said. “You type pretty fast. That’s something.” She scanned her list of openings, tapped her head with a pen, and said, “Can you start this afternoon?” Then she offered to advance me money for a new shirt and tie. “My clients take pretty much whatever they can get right now,” she said. “But we still try to send them professionals.”
On my way out I stopped in the bathroom and checked myself over, in the off-white polyester shirt I’d bought at a thrift store, sweat stains just visible under the arms, and the tie I’d found abandoned in the closet of my new apartment, mustard-colored, with a pattern of blue diamonds. The recruiter had given me a hundred bucks. An outrageous amount, I thought, to spend on a single outfit—or, for that matter, on a whole wardrobe. Instead I dropped it all at a nearby record store, coming home with two dozen used CDs, most of them by local bands I’d never heard and whom, after a single listen, I decided I never wanted to hear again. But I didn’t regret the purchase. I was immersing myself in the culture of my new home, I told myself, and it was as important to discard the dreck as it was to discover the gems. I donated all but two of the CDs to Goodwill.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Anywhere books are sold—especially your local independent bookstore!
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: My website: scottnadelson.com.