How They Spend Their Sundays by Courtney McDermott

From ForeWord Reviews:

“McDermott’s rare talent for conveying a crisp image of a scene shines in this collection of fresh, tightly woven stories.”

— Dindy Yokel

Read the entire review here.

From Blurbed:

“McDermott’s narrative range as a storyteller is bold and impressive as she moves with effortless grace in peeling back the complex layers of social tensions built into the contemporary life of Lesotho and South Africa. How They Spend Their Sundays is a remarkable collection, offering a brutally honest but compassionate portrait of endurance in the face of relentless violence and human injustice.”  Read the entire review here.

From Notre Dame Review:

“A wonderful debut by a fearless and gifted writer.”

Read entire review here (scroll to page 197) (The pdf starts on page 195 so it’s not that much scrolling.)

From Grab the Lapels:

“McDermott’s collection is full of surprises, rich storytelling, and hard-to-forget characters. Her real talent is in respect for observation, and for that reason, I expect to see more books from her soon.” Read the entire review here.

From Insatiable Booksluts:

“Characters in the stor[ies] put faces on problems that we privileged don’t always see: the prevalence of AIDS, the willingness of women to put up with nearly anything–anything–to maintain a job, the familial decisions that direct young women’s lives without any thought to their desires or dreams, rape and patriarchy, the miserable educational system. She does this without being preachy; the stories are polished-raw and lay bare the people in them. McDermott condenses words into powerful bursts of understanding. The writing in this book is five-star.”  Read the entire review here.

Amazon Reviews:

I thoroughly enjoyed being dropped into the lives of Courtney McDermott’s characters and their intriguing experiences. Having spent time traveling in these regions myself I could easily make connections with the author’s precise and flavorful descriptions of characters and life in both South Africa and Lesotho.

This has been a love affair with the short story for me, exceptionally well done!
I await the next work by this new and high quality writer.

***

I have recently been enjoying collections of short stories and leapt at the chance to pick up this fantastic book by Courtney McDermott. I enjoy stories that make me think, and having little experience in the living conditions in the villages of South Africa, I found McDermott’s take on the culture to be not only intriguing, but also well written. Perusing the author’s bio, I was excited to learn that she had lived in the country of Lesotho as a Peace Corp volunteer and her time there lent a gripping flavor of accuracy and realism to the stories. I tore through this book pretty quickly and found the author’s writing style to be readable and engaging. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in mentally visiting this foreign culture – or to fans of the short story. You won’t be disappointed!

***

Amazing first attempt. Draws vivid images of Lesotho and her people. The stories are dramatic and fascinating and her characters are deep and complex. The sex and violence that interweaves the love and joy of the people and story lines shows that Africa is not a simple place as some might imagine but a rich and enigmatic world of discovery.

Goodreads & LibraryThing Reviews:

Amazing, but be prepared to clench your teeth. Reading about this sort of thing in the newspaper is so different than when it’s fictionalized well, and McDermott does a fine job with both the posh and poverty stricken side of the culture of South Africa and Lesotho (which i had never heard of until reading this book). I also was not aware that gang rape (see title story) was a traditional “claiming” rite for some sects, and it was interesting to think about the fact that as a paid or volunteer teacher, you might have to remain neutral and turn the other cheek, though you’d be sick inside. What is your way is not everyone’s.

Throughout many of the stories of this book (which is laid out pretty nifty, but i’ll get to that), there is very much the underlying current that we take education for granted, that for so many of these kids, it’s the only way they’ll have any chance at a better life. There’s also a fair amount of snippets about tourists, always exploitative, black/white cultural stews, and the rampancy of hunger and AIDS. In the third section, which are short retellings of fairy tales or otherwise fantastical, i found “Evenings with Hilda” particularly creative. It is the story of a lonely vampire in somewhat love with an ordinary woman, who is struck with “the diagnosis” and given short shrift. What could be trite turns out to be a really lovely story in McDermott’s hands.

Most of the book are quick little reads, Part One being traditional short stories, Part Two flash fiction, Part Three the fantastical. To say “I learned a lot about South Africa from reading this book” sounds rather 9th grade ridiculous; however the author’s acerbic side, spot-on dialogue, and straightforward, no-frills, no-comparisons style earns her some major chops. One to watch, for sure.

***

I really loved this collection of stories. ..but they are brutal.
Part one is a hard look at modern Post Colonial Lesotho and South Africa.
Part two is edgier, with strong hints of violence and danger.
Part three moves into the fantastic.
I found all the stories totally unsentimental but not without hope. The writing is excellent. It’s a book I will keep and reread.

***

Courtney McDermott’s book of short stories set in Lesotho and South Africa is no gentle collection of tales a la William McCall Smith. Instead this collection of twenty-two stories throbs with violence, fear, racism and the grinding reality of poverty.

The collection is divided into three sections. The first is made up of stories of love, longing, racism and fear and people striving to rise above the deadening poverty of black southern Africa. The second section consists of “flash fiction” – short one or two page vignettes that illuminate little moments with a larger truth. And lastly, the third section delves into magical realism with a vampire-like creature of death and a Cinderella story to end the book (thankfully) on a positive note.

This is McDermott’s debut short story collection and if its brilliance is any indication, she’s in for a marvelous writing career.

***

Wow, here is a new author who really can write an amazing short story! Having read a lot of short stories lately, many of the collections feel the same, middle-class woes, petty grievances, people with everything in the world but happiness. But here comes someone who looks at life a bit differently. Granted, the exotic locations of Lesotho and South Africa made this collection shine, but so did the humanity involved. McDermott tackles racism, poverty, abuse, joy and the concept of happiness …[and] I felt myself part of these people’s lives. She is a fairly spare writer that says a lot with a little, and really gets to the central cord of what makes humans act the ways they do. Also, the language, in spots, is downright beautiful. The format of the book is a bit unusual as it is a volume of short fiction in three parts. Part One is long(er) stories, although probably still short by today’s standards. Part Two is comprised of eleven pieces of “flash fiction” – various glimpses of life (including animals) around those two African countries. Part Three is more on the experimental side (even throws in a very endearing fairy tale as the last story), with one of the creepiest modern-day vampires in memory. I don’t really care for magic realism, or whatever Part Three would be quantified as, but that said, these were pretty good! I give her credit for creating a new kind of folklore, which has a decidedly contemporary feel, yet draws on the past turbulence in Lesotho and South Africa… Overall, highly recommended. I am very grateful to have received this book to review and also, am now aware of Whitepoint Press that looks to be doing some innovative literature and poetry publishing.

***

Part 1 favorites: “Shades of White,” “The Mountains are Watching”

Part 2 favorite: “Prince Harry Flew Into the Village”

Part 3 favorites: “Evenings With Hilda,” “The Ashen Shoes”

Part 1: Loved how each piece showcased intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, education, family status, native/outsider status… there were so many elements influencing the characters’ interactions.

Part 2 is completely comprised of flash fiction (stories ranging from about 1/2 page to 2 pages long). The… one that I particularly liked of that section was “Prince Harry Flew Into the Village.”

I was curious to see whether Part 3 would hold up for me- the back of the book promises that this section “takes us into a world of magic,” which seems a stark contrast from the harsh reality of the stories from the first two sections. However, McDermott does an excellent job of keeping up the harshness of many of the earlier stories while adding in elements of fantasy. I loved loved LOVED “Evenings With Hilda,” which addresses the extremely real problem of living with illness (especially HIV/AIDS) with dark fantasy. I am also a huge fan of McDermott’s take on the Cinderella story in “The Ashen Shoes,” in which ‘Maseeiso finds a real connection with the man she meets and he takes an interest in her personality rather than just her dress or tiny feet … overall, I really enjoyed the collection.

***

How They Spend Their Sundays is an excellent book of short stories. All of the stories take place in Lesotho, a small country completely encircled by South Africa.

The book is divided into three sections. The first contains several standard short stories. They are what you would expect from a short story in length, character development, etc. The stories are excellent and superbly written.

The second and third sections are where Ms. McDermott won me over. The second section contains a number of 1-2 page stories. They are compact and beautiful. They read in a way that reminds me of poetry (as another reviewer mentioned). They are complete glimpses into the lives of the characters. Beautiful. The third section is a bit whimsical. There is a story of a vampire, a revamped Cinderella, and a post apocalyptic vision. These stories are beautiful in content and recast the perspective on the various topics.

***

I was a Goodreads first reads winner of the book “How They Spend Their Sundays” by Courtney McDermott. This is a bunch of short stories that take place in South Africa. Almost all of the stories take place on a Sunday. There are various themes throughout the book. [In] the first story a few couples get together in a house on a Sunday for fun and games. The couples are gay and lesbians. Each character has a story. Different stories touch on the poverty, hunger, and prejudice, and injustice between the whites to the black citizens. Some stories are tragic with family members who die, [some are more] unusual such as the story about a vampire who takes people’s lives to survive. My favorite story is a “Cinderella” based story called “The Ashen Shoes” [in which] a young woman named Maseeiso is treated badly by her family and meets a witch who helps her go to the event that pairs up women looking for husbands.  Probably one of the few “happily ever after” stories in this book.

… I realize that many stories are based on the actual poverty and injustices that many citizens face. This is well written and a pretty good read. I was glad I had the chance to read “How They Spend Their Sundays”

***

I found the book engaging and enjoyable. The stories are diverse in topic, setting, and perspective. McDermott effectively brings us into the lives of a wide variety of characters. McDermott’s writing feels very honest and authentic; her characters are believable and interesting…. Stories from this book would probably be appropriate to assign to high school and undergraduate (introductory) lit classes. This book would probably be of interest to anyone who has spent time in Lesotho or South Africa.

***

The first part of this book [is] longer short stories; they take longer but are worth every minute. The second part is made up of short vignettes. They are all based in Africa, a place I do not know much about. But the stories really hit home and were amazing, and [they] taught you the culture that is not too different from our own. I loved the short burst fire stories that read like poetry. Thank you Library Thing for my early review copy. I enjoyed it

***

“How They Spend Their Sundays” is a beautifully written book of fiction that takes place in Lesotho and South Africa. The author did a fantastic job of describing realistic scenes of life in those countries. Having lived in Lesotho I found some stories difficult to read because they were so realistic, and took me right back to a place I don’t always want to go back and visit. However, I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the region and who appreciates an honest look at every-day life.

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