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The Use of Fame

A Novel

List Price: $26.00

May 9, 2017 | Hardcover | 6 x 9, 224 pages | ISBN 9781619029491

“Rarely has a marriage so come alive in a work of fiction." —Joyce Carol Oates

Cornelia Nixon brings to life a story that challenges the role of class in academia and America, that questions the limits of language and the boundaries of love.

Abigail McCormick and Ray Stark are both poets, married nearly twenty-five years in what has always been a passionate relationship despite deep class differences. Ray is the son of West Virginia coal miners; contemptuous, riotous, too wrapped up in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, sure that he’ll soon receive a more distinguished position at Brown, where he teaches part-time. Abby grew up riding horses in San Francisco’s posh Pacific Heights. Now, having recently abandoned poetry, she spends her energy on a new teaching position at UC Berkeley, on the opposite coast from her husband. Abby’s decision to accept the job sets the stage for Ray’s infidelity, especially as he struggles with a heart condition.

Ray falls in love with Tory Grenier, a graduate student. He’s tortured by his affair, but determined to stay married, and he fights privately to get over Tory for years—even after Abby discovers the relationship. While his health worsens, despairing Abby goes back to riding and writing poems. As she struggles privately, she becomes dependent on sleeping pills and alcohol, rambling through their apartment, forgetting the things Ray says to her at night.

Alternating seamlessly between Ray and Abby’s perspectives, The Use of Fame is a gripping exploration of how closeness and despair can warp a lover’s perception.

CORNELIA NIXON is the author of three other novels, Angels Go Naked, Now You See It, and Jarrettsville, as well as a book of literary criticism. She has won two O. Henry Awards (one of them the First Prize in 1995), two Pushcart Prizes, a Nelson Algren Prize, and the Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction. She lives half the year in Berkeley, California, and half on an island in Puget Sound, Washington.


 “The reality of trying to make love last is shown with poise and grace, and all the situation’s complexity nuance rings true in Nixon’s honest prose and nuanced characters.”—Publishers Weekly

“Cornelia Nixon is a brave and gifted writer, and in The Use of Fame she’s written a powerful elegy to the end of love. Nixon wryly unveils a literary world of fragile egos and long simmering feuds, and in Abby, she has given us a worthy, soulful heroine to travel alongside.”—Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

“Rarely has a marriage so come alive in a work of fiction. This novel has the power of intensely lived life and the authority of absolute authenticity. The sympathetic presentations of both wife and husband are beautifully drawn. So intense, beautifully written, shining with ‘felt life,’ it is truly gripping–riveting.”—Joyce Carol Oates

“Told in brisk, unadorned prose, part of the compulsive readability of Berkeleyan Cornelia Nixon’s fourth novel, The Use of Fame, comes from its sly, sensuous descriptions of settings: Berkeley and the greater Bay Area; Providence, R.I.; and Miami. But the rest comes from its antic, Almodovarean breathlessness.” —San Francisco Chronicle

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