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The New Order


List Price: $16.95

November 12, 2019 | Paperback | 5.1 x 7.9, 288 pages | ISBN 9781640092723
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“A collection that reflects America’s new reality.” —The New York Times Book Review, New & Noteworthy

The National Book Award finalist for Refund returns with a new collection of stories that boldly examines the changes in American culture over the last two years through the increasing presence of violence, bigotry, sexual harassment, and the emotional costs of living under constant threat.

In the title story, the competition between two middle school cellists is affected by a shooting at their school, and it is only years later that they realize how the intrusion of violence affected the course of their lives. In “This Is Who You Are,” a young girl walks the line between Hebrew school and her regular school, realizing that both are filled with unexpected moments of insight and violence. In “Three Interviews,” an aging reporter must contend with her dwindling sense of self and resources, beleaguered by unemployment, which sets her on a path to three increasingly unhinged job interviews. In “Mrs. America,” a candidate for local office must confront a host of forces that threaten to undermine her campaign and expose her own role in the dissonance between what America is and what it should be.

The New Order shows a singular writer dealing with contemporary themes and ideas, shining a spotlight on the dark corners of our nature, our instincts, and our country.

“The unfussy yet supremely crafted short fictions in the author’s second collection delight in upending expectations, playing fast and loose with the rules of tone, time, and point of view to constantly keep us guessing.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

About Karen E Bender

KAREN E. BENDER is the author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, short-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and long-listed for the Story Prize. She is also the author of the novels Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. She is the Visiting Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins University.


Praise for The New Order

Long-listed for The Story Prize
1 of 10 Books to Be Thankful for This November (O, The Oprah Magazine)
1 of 23 Hot Picks for Cool Fall Books (The Boston Globe)
1 of 34 Fall 2018 Books We Can't Wait to Read (HuffPost)

"A finalist for the National Book Award, lauded for her short stories, Bender returns with a collection that reflects America's new reality." --The New York Times Book Review, New & Noteworthy

"The unfussy yet supremely crafted short fictions in the author's second collection delight in upending expectations, playing fast and loose with the rules of tone, time, and point of view to constantly keep us guessing." --O, The Oprah Magazine, 1 of 10 Books to Be Thankful for This November

"While her stories have a universality that makes them timeless, The New Order very much speaks to this particularly fraught time." --Elizabeth Taylor, The National Book Review

"The National Book Award finalist returns with a story collection guaranteed to unnerve." --The Boston Globe, 1 of 23 Hot Picks for Cool Fall Books

"When most readers think about the American Jewish literary tradition, they're thinking about Saul Bellow and Philip Roth . . . But there's another tradition: the tradition of Grace Paley and Deborah Eisenberg, of the great Jewish women short story writers. Karen E. Bender belongs to that close-knit, fiery canon. She is as politicized as Paley, who famously split her time between parenting, writing and protesting, and like Eisenberg she excels at sneaking in a joke when least expected. She's always got an elbow in the reader's side, nudging us to look closer at the world we live in." --Lily Meyer, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Bender is a master of the short story . . . Throughout The New Order, Bender manages to draw inspiration from her Jewish heritage, creating characters with whom the reader can relate no matter what their own background." --Andrea Geary, Winnipeg Free Press

"She articulates our new normal in terms both empathetic and terrifying. Bender shows an utter mastery of dialogue, including the conversations her characters have with themselves. These inner monologues never sink into simplistic political agitprop but break, twist, and unwind in ways that evoke the uncertainties we feel in the face of an unrecognizable world . . . You will think about some of these stories every day." --W. Scott Poole, PopMatters, 1 of the 80 Best Books of the Year

"National Book Award finalist Bender is back with more politically timely short fiction, in a collection that takes on school shootings, economic instability, campaigns for public office, sexual misconduct and beyond." --HuffPost, 1 of 34 Fall 2018 Books We Can't Wait to Read

"Bender's collection of short stories speaks to the here and now with an almost shocking degree of prescience . . . Bender's stories are unnerving--they track the slow warping of a mind pressured by threats of instability, danger, and falling without a net to catch them. Essentially, of us. Bender is an exquisite writer, and this book really will act as a brutally honest but empathetic guide to navigating the now." --Refinery29

"There are plenty of books that are well reviewed, but which don't reach nearly the readership they deserve. I suspect one title which falls into that category is Karen E. Bender's short story collection, The New Order, which so incisively and unnervingly captures the newest forms of tyranny." --Donna Seaman, Book Marks

"The dark undercurrents of our social climate--the threat of bigotry, violence, and misogyny--fuel the stories and central characters in Bender's sharp, thought-provoking and urgent collection." --Samantha Zabell, Apartment Therapy

"The New Order is one of the best collections of the year." --HelloGiggles

"The book shines a penetrating light on our current political moment without a whiff of sanctimony. If I were to describe these stories (always impossible with the best ones), the topics would sound as if lifted from a CNN news ticker: sexual harassment, school shootings, political campaigns, the emotional toll of living under constant threat. And yet, there's nothing preachy about the writing. Long after I finished the book, I found myself thinking less about the scenarios and more about the characters caught up in them. Bender renders her people with such precision and nuance, such warmth and compassion, that I cared about them as intensely as I do the people in my own life . . . Bender's elastic use of structure is reminiscent of Deborah Eisenberg and Joan Silber -- all three wield a pace that's unexpected and undulating. They consistently surprise by speeding right past moments that would seem crucial in a more conventional story, only to linger in the quieter, less-explored precincts of a character's psyche . . . Karen Bender is, hands down, one of our best story writers -- and for anyone who hasn't encountered her fiction, The New Order is the perfect place to start." --Molly Antopol, Electric Literature

"Karen E. Bender's new story collection is steeped in the present political moment, with an eye to our future. Our cultural corrosion--especially our denial of sexual assault and gun violence--impacts Bender's female narrators in quiet, resounding ways . . . The New Order delivers deceptively straightforward reflections on the mundane, as the reader is drawn into worlds much like our own." --The Arkansas International

"In what feels like the most timely release, The New Order is a new collection of stories that examines American culture over the past two years where violence, bigotry, sexual harassment, and negativity loomed over the country like a cancerous cloud."

"Bender's previous collection of stories, Refund, was deservedly shortlisted for the National Book Award. Her latest, The New Order, is even better and more trenchant, a harrowing look into our present moment . . . Bender's writing is precise and exacting, and each story heartbreakingly cuts to the core of America's numerous tragedies." --Read It Forward

"Closed spaces--elevators, offices, an airplane, classrooms--amplify the inner dramas of Bender's watchful, anxious, feverishly expressive narrators in her second short story collection . . . In each of Bender's emotionally intimate tales, perplexed and traumatized girls and women confront the opacity of the thoughts and feelings of others, even those closest to them . . . With literary virtuosity, psychological authenticity, and breath-catching insight, Bender dramatizes gripping personal dilemmas compounded by a new order of social tyranny." --Booklist (starred review)

"[An] incisive collection . . . Bender's stories maintain a grounded, subdued realism. The great strength of the collection lies in her ability to examine the ramifications of violence and casual cruelty on individuals and communities . . . This is a thoughtful, timely collection." --Publishers Weekly

"What an amazing collection this is. Anyone who doubts that true art can be written in response to what's going on in America needs to read The New Order. The book kept surprising and dazzling me--junior-high treacheries, a woman's mean new job, and futile efficiencies in the face of danger are all turned into stories that read like legends." --Joan Silber, author of Improvement

"Karen E. Bender's stories are a marvel. This collection is profound and deeply humane, a moving portrait of a culture at a moment of anxiety, its faults on display and all too recognizable." --Daniel Alarcón, author of The King Is Always Above the People

"Karen Bender is a tremendous writer--bighearted and wise, witty and wry--and The New Order is a powerhouse of a book: each story brilliantly crafted, propulsive, and surprising, with characters I cared for deeply and endings that knocked me flat. It's a book that feels tailor-made for the current political moment, while still having the timeless feel of a classic. One of the best story collections I've read in years." --Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

"I have found a new favorite writer and am a bit embarrassed I didn't know who Karen E. Bender was before this ARC fell into my lap. Elegant writing and powerfully packed stories with relevant topics, relatable inner dialogue, and powerful (sometimes funny) twists. Loved it!" --Elena Eustaquio, Books Inc. (San Francisco, CA)

Praise for Refund

Finalist for the National Book Award for fiction
Short-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize
Long-listed for the Story Prize

"Money is ostensibly the fuel that powers Karen E. Bender's new collection, Refund...but Bender's subtler preoccupation is the eroding effect of emotional want...Bender understands worlds about marriage and emotional need." --The New York Times Book Review

"Bender probes the depths people will sink to for love and money in this poignant, absorbing collection of finance-themed tales. Worth investing time in." --People

"Each day Bender's cast of ordinary people struggle to make sense of their debts, their fears, and how to be satisfied with what they've got, in short stories that are both lean and expansive." --O, the Oprah Magazine

"The tales told in Karen Bender's Refund, a collection of stories that centers on money and family, are exquisitely composed portraits of modern life, and chances are you will encounter characters that remind you a little or a lot of yourself. That's the brilliance of Bender's storytelling....Bender's ability to transform observations of life into uncomfortably realistic stories cannot be denied." --Chicago Tribune

"The stories are replete with poignant, tragic moments...her graceful and sensitive treatment of her characters reminds us that in difficult times, it's important to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle." --The Boston Globe

"Each of the Refund stories is an impeccably constructed miniature, a ship in a bottle that makes the reader wonder how the author got all that detail, all that craft, into such a small container. Taken as a whole, the collection is a 13-stop journey into some richly imagined worlds...Bender's willingness to go deep, to burrow down into what's right and wrong about 21st century America and Americans is a mirror that draws us in and does not allow us to look away." --Los Angeles Times

"A masterful new collection." --Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"In the 13 electrifying tales of Refund, she examines the themes of wealth and poverty, health and disease, and the suddenness with which our lives can change -- or even end....Bender ends on notes of hope and despair: hope because one is still loved and can love, despair at a life fraught with worry and disappointment. The author's sharp observations and fine, crisp writing keep these stories crackling with energy and wit, while they excavate the buried secrets of 21st century America." --Miami Herald

"A fictional bonanza for penny-pinching times." --More

"Bender's evocative prose takes us immediately to a place that we recognize, even if we haven't yet lived there ourselves...I loved Refund. Highly recommended." --The Billfold

"There are some astonishing characters in this collection-the elderly grifter in 'Theft, ' the ailing child in 'Anything for Money, ' and the sisters in 'A Chick From My Dream Life'...the stories' strengths stem from Bender's beautiful writing and her ability to convey the wonder and dread of ordinary life, the things we might notice-whether with terror or with joy-if we weren't too busy worrying about paying the bills." --Publishers Weekly

"Bender's tales are stark, heart-wrenching, quirky....but they all work together, as Bender leads us to a unifying conclusion: you can't put a price on human life or love." --Booklist

"Money, money! The things we'll do to get it, the distortions (especially when children are involved) of the space between desire and satisfaction: these are Karen Bender's subjects, which she handles with savage wit, great economy, and a brilliant instinct for the telling situation. Her stories floored me." --Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and Servants of the Map

"Every once in a while a book steps onto the stage and convinces readers all over again that literature is the great companion and interpreter of life. This is one of those books. In these eleven absolutely masterful stories by Karen E. Bender, the reader gets the most intimate education in politics, language, love, family. The book cares about every single idea it comes across-- in a way it is political to the core. On the other hand, the writing is affectionate and attentive to the way life feels, to the way a phrase can grasp a moment so entirely. This is the book of the season, and the book everyone should read who wants to understand the depth and capability of the short story." --Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and The City Is A Rising Tide

"In an American moment where money rules and anxieties fester, Karen Bender has stepped in to tell all our stories with unsettling honesty, an eye for our absurdities, and an openness to the moments of grace that keep us going. Bender is a master storyteller and Refund is a superb collection." --Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

"These stories are among the best short fiction I've read in a generation. From the chains of straw and coins and angels that bind us to earth, Bender weaves not only gold, but the rings of Saturn." --Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature

"In Refund, Karen Bender offers us a vision of contemporary life that is tragic and deeply funny, disturbing and - most of all - true. These are stories about us, women and men living with the trappings of comfort and security, while anxiety thrums under the surface and a sense of calamity looms. This collection moved and enthralled me throughout." --Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia and the story collection You are Free

Praise for A Town of Empty Rooms

"In the very best of fiction, an intimate, spiritual communion momentarily transpires between reader and author. In the case of Bender's novel, these moments occur during these flawless passages of authentic longing and isolation. Like some of today's best contemporary realistic authors, Bender skillfully excavates and animates the human fragilities and missteps of life, transporting the reader deeper into the narrative and the interior lives of her characters. Taken together, A Town of Empty Rooms elicits both great pleasure and heartache." --S. Kirk Walsh, The Boston Globe

"Conversations -- about love, faith, belonging, and the nature of God -- rattle and hum throughout Karen Bender's outstanding new novel, A Town of Empty Rooms. The book itself is a series of conversations, though it is the ones we don't have, Bender suggests, that matter the most." --Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Bender's a keen observer of marriage and the psychological bonds that tie mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. The novel excels in stirring the reader's sympathy and outrage...Bender offers an absorbing and often touching look at the struggles of an urban middle-class family to adjust to an unfamiliar America--rural, provincial and homogeneous." --Publishers Weekly

"Is it possible to know another person, even one you love, is the question posed in this novel.....Bender portrays a marriage in crisis with heartbreaking accuracy." --Kirkus Reviews

"Bender has created complex characters in a novel that provocatively considers our basic need to connect with other people, and how very fragile those connections can be." --Booklist

"A Town of Empty Rooms is a novel powerfully infused with psychic must admire Bender's commitment to the complexity of mental distress. It's this complexity, the incommunicability of our pain, that makes us unreachable to one another...this novel conveys the problem; it is also, in its unsentimental sensitivity, a kind of corrective." --Chatham County Line

"And where A Town of Empty Rooms truly succeeds how we, as readers, can observe how invested these characters are in those arguments. Ultimately, each attachment in the book--the rabbi, the scouts, the tree in Serena and Dan's yard, the jewelry--is a substitute for the death of a loved one and the possible death of a marriage. They also represent a chance for one last conversation, a conversation that's impossible with the living. What emerges, then, is a novel about the unsaid, the unspeakable, and the ways we talk past the dividing lines between us." --Tikkun magazine

"A Town of Empty Rooms is a gift to anyone who loves real books about real people. It is profound, moving, and so beautifully written as to break your heart. It's as though Karen Bender is channeling Willa Cather, with a bit of George Orwell. Charming, real, and absolutely necessary." --Craig Nova, author of The Constant Heart

"Quiet power is something we have too little of in our fiction these days, so I cherished it all the more in Karen Bender's Town of Empty Rooms. She observes her characters from what you might call a respectful distance, but in a way that penetrates to the psychic muck. She knows that gossip is one of the ways we reveal ourselves. This doesn't sound like any other book about a Southern small town." --John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

"I read this absorbing book in one sitting. It has everything to make you go on reading - conflict, hope, disappointment; displays of confusion, displays of ignorance, displays of foolishness --and, at bottom, an affecting depiction of human isolation." --Edith Pearlman, author of Binocular Vision

"Karen Bender's novel is filled with subtle recognitions. As her exiled characters rebuild their lives, they discover the human heart's resilient capacity for love. A Town of Empty Rooms does what all terrific novels do: it resonates with the reader long after its covers have been closed. Read the book; you'll see." --Tom Grimes, author of Mentor: A Memoir

"There is a great deal to absorb and consider as one reads this novel. Karen E. Bender has set the bar high here, attempting to depict and explore the souls of individuals and communities. The result is a novel well worth reading." --Erika Dreifus, author of From My Bookshelf

"What made this book a joy to read was not only the plot and character development but the writing...this book would be a great discussion piece on the interplay between religion and society as we navigate the personal and public and the place of religious life in our culture at large." --Pastor William C. Mills, author of Walking With God

Praise for Like Normal People

"This is marvelous writing: energetic, precise, sympathetically alive to the strangeness of ordinary life." --New York Times Book Review

"Graceful and beguiling--distinguished by lyrical language and a real generosity of spirit." --Washington Post Book World

"Sweet, funny, and melancholy...Lena has a compelling presence, radiating love, humour, and difficulty in equal measure." --Elle (London)

A luminous, meditative novel on the boundaries between childhood, adulthood and old age. A." --Entertainment Weekly

"Irreverent and affectionate." --Vogue

"A remarkable fictional debut." --Newsday

"Poignantly and brilliantly portrayed." --Timeout New York

"To this vivid portrayal of family dynamics, Bender brings a persuasive understanding of the human condition." --Guardian

"Grand...Like Normal People is an uplifting and bittersweet testament to uncompromising love." --New York Post

"Three richly textured characters whose irreducible idiosyncrasies, griefs, longings, and loves will surely expand our sense of what it means to be like normal people." --Chicago Tribune

"Radiant...rendered in delicate yet indelible prose...Like Normal People is quietly reminiscent to structure and sensibility of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping." --Portland Oregonian

"A distinguished first novel...a remarkably complex work that attempts to explore lives of three different people in one day." --Baltimore Sun

"Some first novelists arrive on the literary scene already so proficient it's hard to believe that we are reading their debut effort. This is true of Bender, whose remarkable narrative of three generations of women has the wisdom of mature insight and the grace of empathy and understanding...Bender's subtle humor, her understanding of a parent's need to offer protective love and her tolerant view of human nature infuse the story with universality. In the end, this heartwarming novel dealing with societal misfits, family relationships, and loss is about all flawed human beings, 'normal' and 'not.'" --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Beautifully done. Bender has a remarkable gift for showing how the security of family interrelationship warms chafes, imprisons, and ultimately liberates." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"The quality of this book, its true sense of humanity, reminds me of the best of modern authors." --Joanne Woodward

"Tender, touching, gravely beautiful, Like Normal People presents a luminous world constructed by the purest unconditional love." --Carolyn See

"Karen Bender writes about the darkness and beauty of love in all its varieties like no one else. Like Normal People is funny and heartbreaking on every page; so smart, so beautiful, so real." --Elizabeth McCracken

"What an amazing novel: the complexities, imperfections, and triumphs of Karen Bender's extraordinary characters will keep you rapt from start to finish you'll love this book." --Meg Wolitzer

"A remarkable work about the intergenerational ties between women in a family. Utterly original, absolutely believable, these women quickly work their way into your heart and remain there long after the last page is turned. Like Normal People marks the emergence of a tremendously gifted new writer." --Hope Edelman

"Karen Bender writes with magical clarity, describing the blessed human confusion of childhood, old age, and what lies in between." --Cathleen Schine

"Her sentences dazzle. Her tender characters reveal an exquisite sensitivity to family love and sorrow. Like Normal People is the best first novel I've read in years." --Martha McPhee

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