• Little Known Facts: A Novel
    Little Known Facts: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    by Christine Sneed
  • Paris, He Said: A Novel
    Paris, He Said: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    by Christine Sneed

Chicago Tribune Review, 24 Dec. 2010

"Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories" by Christine Sneed

In a number of these sophisticated stories, Sneed takes readers to places they might not have been before and gives them the feel of authentic experience

By Alan Cheuse
Special to the Tribune
10:32 PM CST, December 24, 2010
By Christine Sneed
Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 152 pages, $24.95

Why do you want to take your precious time and give yourself over to the first collection of short fiction by a relatively unknown Chicago writer Christine Sneed? (Especially when it comes in a volume with type almost too small for normal human eyes to perceive?)

Because in a number of these sophisticated stories she takes you to places you might not have been before and gives them the feel of authentic experience, which is to say, gives us stories that become part of our public memory. That's what all good fiction does, I think. It gives us the memory of our culture, as writers have conjured it up, and extends our lives in terms of years as well as geographically and psychologically, if not in actual physical longevity. If you think I've said something quite silly, stop reading now, please. But if you have the sense, as I do, that reading fiction gives you powers that approximate the strengths of at least the lower rung of the gods, keep going, because I have a recommendation for you.

Sneed writes mainly about women, young and old, women with open hearts and women who are terrifically observant of their own emotions as well as the souls of others, and in this collection offers a much wider world than most debut assemblages of a new writer's magazine stories. She carries us in to the world of art and finance, and she also does portraits of nurses and artists with equal strength, and of, in the story titled "Quality of Life", a young woman taken up by an older man, and in the story "Twelve + Twelve", an account of an older woman carrying on an affair with a younger man. In the title story age evens out a bit as a young woman, whose father, a famous artist, suffers sudden death and bequeaths to her a legacy both of artifacts and emotions. In "Alex Rice, Inc.," a community college instructor improbably encounters a famous (and devastatingly attractive) young movie actor, and tries to survive their professional relationship.

In these stories Sneed's gift for conveying sexual experiences in a sharp effective phrasing becomes quite clear. "He had worked her over for close to three hours," she writes in the title story, about the relationship between a young artist and the daughter of the famous newly deceased great artist. "Only four other men in her life had tried to do what he had done to her. One had succeeded, the others had merely thought they had." So the world of Sneed's stories widens not just in terms of the subject matter but in relation to experience. There's a freshness to lines such as I have just quoted, and there is a freshness to the points of view she employs such as I have just described.

Along with the freshness of her prose and the revelations she employs it to reveal comes a problem, however. In some of the best stories, the openings and middles resonate with emotion and insight. Only the endings seem to trail away. In the story about the movie star who takes a college class drama sparks up between him and the instructor and between his instructor and one of his body-guards. But the story ends without revelation, just some off-hand comments about halfway down the train toward insight.

In the title story, we read that the daughter of the great artist will give in to the younger artist - he wants to see the old man's sketchbooks, she hesitates about allowing him access - without ever become witness to a scene in which this occurs. "She knew she would have to show him the notebooks," Sneed writes. "With little hope, he had been waiting for this."

Am I missing something here? Could be. But maybe not. The gifted (now) almost elder statesman of the American short story, Minnesota writer Charles Baxter, suggested in an essay some time ago that perhaps we as writers - and readers - have shifted, perhaps evolved, into a state where we might now eschew the creation of epiphanic (as in suddenly revelatory) endings. "I disapprove of epiphanies and their phony auras," Baxter said, "but I am besotted by them - can't get enough of them in life or elsewhere..."

Sneed may be playing with this notion. Or not. Perhaps she thinks she has given us satisfactory endings, but a reader such as myself just doesn't get them. Be that as it may she offers enough in these stories to make the book attractive to anyone interested in the contemporary short story, its surprises and daring successes, and failures.

Time Out Chicago review, 11 November 2010

A new review by Jonathan Messinger, Books Editor at, Time Out Chicago

Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry

(4 out of 5 stars)

There’s a wonderful slow-motion tension that runs throughout the stories in Chicagoan Sneed’s debut. We watch as her characters walk themselves over to various cliffs, scuffle their soles, kick off a few pebbles and listen to the silence as they never hit bottom. They then take the plunge, anyway.

Take the main character of the first story, “Quality of Life,” a young woman who begins an affair with a monied older man after he slips her his number during a bartending gig. He tells her his name is “Mr. Fulger,” though she suspects he’s lying, and after each dinner and tryst in a hotel room, he gifts her money. The story unceremoniously unfolds, revealing the protagonist’s darkening shades of shame as Mr. Fulger exerts greater control over her life. It’s a story about power, greed, the various shapes of desire, and the way money grants us permissions that would typically make us bristle. But it’s also about how even the self-assured examined life can lead to disastrous consequences when it allows us to talk ourselves into anything.

The protagonist of the title story, too, finds herself enmeshed in a love affair that brings with it a carousel of baggage after her grandfather passes away, and ugly familial politics play out. In “By the Way,” the May/December calendar is flipped, and the woman worries about her slipping memory, but parries it for as long as she can. Sneed writes so carefully that at times it feels as though the words are hardly there, and we’re in the characters’ heads, taking the plunge with them.



ForeWord Review, November 2010

Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry


Author: Christine Sneed
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (November 1, 2010)
ISBN: 9781558498587
Reviewed: November/December 2010

Self-assessments as frank and all-encompassing as “…she knows herself to be a woman afraid of engagement, of exposure, of experience, of change, of strangers, of obsolescence and loneliness” are seldom expressed during everyday encounters, but in Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, such reflection is natural among women on the brink of reaffirming or discovering their limitations at work, in friendships, and in romantic liaisons.

Winner of the 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, Sneed’s debut features ten accomplished stories—one of which is anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, and another which placed second in Glimmer Train’s Summer 2008 short fiction contest. These stories detail the tensions born of her characters’ insecurities; some characters doubt their lovers’ intentions, while others question the choices that lead to their present circumstances.

Protagonists include, among others, a recent high school graduate who desires to leave her hometown only to acknowledge that she might never escape its boundaries; a woman in her mid-fifties whose attempt to shield her age from her lover results in the exposure of unfounded fears; the granddaughter of a renowned artist who has yet to gain confidence in her own abilities; a designer who must confront her acceptance of a mysterious benefactor’s patronage in exchange for her sexual availability; a professor dismayed by her reaction to a celebrity’s enrollment; and a screenwriter who learns she is the object of a former classmate’s jealousies.

Sneed wisely refrains from depicting her characters as fragile naïfs or detached, cosmopolitan doyennes. Regardless of their ages, the women emerge as aptly drawn, complex figures who often know they have room to grow when it comes to understanding the heart’s nuances, and who can accept momentary setbacks as a means for strengthening their resolve.

Though two stories present marked departures from the others–one in which a woman recalls an aggressive interviewer, and the other a more distanced exploration of a hotline in a walled city–the collection is nonetheless threaded by rhythmic prose as well as the occasional, priceless hyperbole. Readers especially attuned to the author’s strong timing will appreciate feats such as “By the Way” and “Alex Price, Inc.” This is a collection to relish, not only for the care that is evident in each turn of phrase, but for its ability to turn weaknesses into thoughtful, sometimes melancholy explorations of contemporary adulthood. (November) Karen Rigby


Portraits Receives Starred Review in Publishers Weekly

From Publishers Weekly, 4 October 2010:

 * Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories 
Christine Sneed, Univ. of Massachusetts, $24.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-55849-858-7 
Ten finely delineated tales featuring protagonists entangled in less-than-ideal romantic scenarios constitute this year's winner of the Grace Paley Prize. The best stories feature women caught up in liaisons with men either much younger or older. In "Quality of Life," a 26-year-old woman begins seeing a wealthy man more than double her age, Mr. Fulger, who takes her out infrequently and presses money on her, which she takes because it "made her life more easeful." She dates other men her age, but can't seem to stop seeing Mr. Fulger, whose solicitousness eventually has unexpected consequences. In the title story, the granddaughter of a late, famous artist becomes involved with a young artist who may be playing her to obtain the precious notebooks bequeathed to her. Teetering on the brink of self-possession, Sneed's protagonists aren't sure they trust themselves, such as the 55-year old narrator of "By the Way" who can't admit to her much younger lover her fears of faltering memory and mortality. Sneed writes with the care of a fine stylist and the heart of a sympathetic reader. (Nov.)


Page 1 ... 1 2 3 4 5