Spit Baths

Stories by Greg Downs


"The American short story is in fine hands with Greg Downs and Spit Baths. The stories are often funny, always deft. Here, the conundrums of American life and family are put in bold relief. Readers are in for a treat."
—Christopher Tilghman, author of Roads of the Heart

"Always engaging, at times compelling, Spit Baths is both thoroughly original and completely authentic. Greg Downs unifies these disparate stories through their tone—deadpan, informed with preternatural wisdom, so real they verge into surreal. Working from events stranger than fiction, he explores the hard truths at the edges of our lives, especially regarding the lingering scars of racism. In the process, he draws back a curtain to reveal a world in which people are always searching, never finding someone or some place they can call home."
—Fenton Johnson, author of Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey

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With a reporter's eye for the inside story and a historian's grasp of the ironies in our collective past, Greg Downs affectionately observes some of the last survivors of what Greil Marcus has called the old, weird America. Living off the map and out of sight, folks like Embee, Rudy, Peg, and Branch define themselves by where they are, not by what they eat, drink, or wear.

The man who is soon to abandon his family in "Ain't I a King, Too?" is mistaken for the populist autocrat of Louisiana, Huey P. Long—on the day after Long's assassination. In "Hope Chests," a history teacher marries his student and takes her away from a place she hated, only to find that neither one of them can fully leave it behind. An elderly man in "Snack Cakes" enlists his grandson to help distribute his belongings among his many ex-wives, living and dead. In the title story, another intergenerational family tale, a young boy is caught in a feud between his mother and grandmother. The older woman uses the language of baseball to convey her view of religion and nobility to her grandson before the boy's mother takes him away, maybe forever.

Caught up in pasts both personal and epic, Downs's characters struggle to maintain their peculiar, grounded manners in an increasingly detached world.

Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Page count: 192 pp.
Trim size: 5.25 x 8


List price: $19.95

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Greg Downs has been the least successful high school varsity basketball coach in Tennessee, the editor of a muckraking weekly newspaper on Chicago's South Side, a karaoke performer profiled in the Boston Phoenix, and a reporter on the tail of a fugitive cult leader. A graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is an assistant professor of history at the City College of New York. Downs's stories have appeared in such publications as Glimmer Train, Meridian, Chicago Reader, and Sycamore Review.