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The Use of Fame

List Price: $16.95

April 10, 2018 | Paperback | 5.2 x 7.9, 240 pages | ISBN 9781640090279
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“Rarely has a marriage so come alive in a work of fiction. . . So intense, beautifully written, shining with ‘felt life, ‘ it is truly gripping–riveting.” –Joyce Carol Oates

Abigail McCormick and Ray Stark are both poets, married nearly twenty-five years in what has always been a passionate relationship, despite their deep class differences. Ray is the son of West Virginia coal miners and was abused as a child–but now he is a distinguished poet with a part-time position at Brown. Abby grew up in San Francisco’s posh Pacific Heights and, having abandoned poetry, she spends her energy on a new teaching position at UC Berkeley. Abby’s decision to accept the post and the required cross-country marriage sets the stage for Ray to stray, especially as he struggles with a heart condition.

He’s tortured by his affair with the graduate student he’s fallen in love with, but is determined to stay married–he fights to get over Tory for years. A despairing Abby finds solace in her return to riding horses and writing poems, but as she suffers privately, she becomes dependent on sleeping pills and alcohol. Ray’s health worsens–proves nearly fatal–and another cross-country move threatens to push them further apart. Alternating seamlessly between Ray’s and Abby’s perspectives, The Use of Fame is a gripping exploration of how closeness and despair can warp a lover’s perception.

About Cornelia Nixon

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.

Praise for The Use of Fame

"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

"[A] gorgeous examination of marriage and its discontents. Nixon, to my mind, deserves extra kudos for managing to make a marriage between two creatives (literature professor Abigail McCormick and poet Ray Stark) the stuff of imaginative, and not insufferable, fiction . . . Nixon has written something if not precisely modern, at least refreshing in its honesty." --Bethanne Patrick, LitHub

"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

"Berkeley resident Cornelia Nixon's fourth novel, The Use of Fame, tells the story of two married college professors and poets who live on opposite coasts and have a commuter marriage. Abby McCormick and Ray Stark have been together for 25 years despite their class differences (he comes from a West Virginia coal mining family and she comes from San Francisco's tony Pacific Heights) but their passion has diminished and is threatened with extinction because of Ray's affair with a much younger former graduate student. The book alternates between Ray's and Abby's perspectives, and, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, 'rarely has a marriage so come alive in a work of fiction.'" --Berkeleyside

"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

Praise for Now You See It

"Cornelia Nixon combines Alice Munro's sympathetic understanding of character with Ann Beattie's radar-sharp eye for the dislocations of contemporary culture. Ms. Nixon also has a thoroughly original voice, a voice that moves fluently from the poetic to the visceral, from the absurd to the mundane." --Michiko Kakutani

"Every so often I come across a book that makes me want to write fiction again...Now You See It had that effect on me. In under 200 pages, Nixon covers a lot of years in the life of an idiosyncratic American family; she fashions their spirits and feelings, decisions and visions and history into a lyrical, moving song. Nixon has captured the confusion of our lives and of our struggles in a magically dreamlike way, captured how hard it is sometimes to have the families we do, the tremendous density and obligations." --Anne Lamott

Praise for Jarretsville

"I happily follow Cornelia Nixon's exquisite prose wherever it takes me. Her writing is witty, honest, and profound." --Vendela Vida, author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

"A haunting and powerful evocation of a neglected moment in the American story. Nixon is a writer of unusual gifts; her prose rises to the level of poetry, flawlessly capturing the authentic, earthy flavor of a blood-soaked land." --Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

"Jarrettsville is a haunting and tender love story. I was gripped from the first page. Nixon renders her star-crossed lovers in sharp detail, making the past feel fresh and alive. A vivid, absorbing, and beautifully written novel." --Lisa Michaels, author of Split: A Counterculture Childhood

"Jarrettsville, Cornelia Nixon's stunning new novel, is a joyous, sensual tragedy; a series of penetrating psychological portraits; and a spellbinding chronicle of love and the aftermath of war. Emotionally and morally complex, the book is as brave as it is gripping: its characters and voices feel poignant, unexpected, revealing, and utterly alive." --Sarah Stone, author of The True Sources of the Nile

"Just because the story is filled with hoop skirts, fainting ladies and dashing cavaliers on horseback, don't mistake it for one of those historical romances that feature hoop skirts, fainting ladies and dashing cavaliers on horseback. Nixon is too good for that. Her writing is like an easy-gaited horse; one notices not so much the power as the fluidity of motion."--Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife

Praise for Angels Go Naked

"Wise, magical...galvanized by a kind of sensual thought and an alertness to the ways we love and fail and insist on doing it again and again until we get lucky, until we get it right." --Frederick Busch, author of The Night Inspector

"Nixon's great achievement in Angels Go Naked is in transforming the ordinary events of Margy and Webster's daily existence into exquisite dramas." --New York Times Book Review

"A 'novel in stories' that cannot be put down...Nixon's writing gifts are apparent in every scene of the novel." --Library Journal


Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction, 2010 (for Jarrettsville)

First Prize O. Henry Award, 1995, for "The Women Come and Go" (short story)

O. Henry Award, 1993, for "Risk" (short story)

Pushcart Prize 2003 for "Lunch at the Blacksmith" (short story)

Pushcart Prize 1995 for "The Women Come and Go" (short story)

Nelson Algren Prize, 1988, for "Alf's Garage" (short story)

Distinguished story, Best American Short Stories 2002-, for "Lunch at the Blacksmith" (short story)

Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction, 1991, for Now Your See It (a novel)

Distinguished Story, Best American Short Stories 1990, for "Death Angel"

Black Warrior Review Fiction Prize, 1988-89, for "Death Angel" (short story)

Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize, 1988, for "Now You See It" (short story) (declined)


Quigley Fellowship, Mills College, 2012

Quigley Fellowship, Mills College, 2002

Lila Wallace Fellowship for Historical Research by Creative Artists, American Antiquarian Society, 1998 (for research on the Civil War era)

National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, 1992.

Carnegie Fellow to the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, 1986-87.

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Faculty Fellowship, 1982.

Regents' Intern Fellowship, University of California, Berkeley, 1975-1979

President's Undergraduate Fellowship in Creative Writing, UC Irvine, 1969

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