the bigness of the world

The Bigness of the WorldIn Lori Ostlund’s award-winning debut collection, people seeking escape from situations at home venture out into a world that they find is just as complicated and troubled as the one they left behind.

In prose highlighted by both satire and poignant observation, The Bigness of the World contains characters that represent a different sort of everyman—men and women who poke fun at ideological rigidity while holding fast to good grammar and manners, people seeking connections in a world that seems increasingly foreign. In “Upon Completion of Baldness,” a young woman shaves her head for a part in a movie in Hong Kong that will help her escape life with her lover in Albuquerque. In “All Boy,” a young logophile encounters the limits of language when he finds he prefers the comfort of a dark closet as he confronts the truth about his parents’ marriage. In “Dr. Daneau’s Punishment,” a math teacher leaving New York for Minnesota as a means of punishing himself engages in an unsettling method of discipline. In “Bed Death,” a lesbian couple travels to Malaysia to teach only to find their relationship crumbling. And in “Idyllic Little Bali,” a group of Americans gather around a pool in Java to discuss their brushes with fame and end up witnessing a man’s fatal flight from his wife.

In The Bigness of the World we see that wherever you are in the world, where you came from is never far away.

BUY: | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound |Powell’s | University of Georgia Press

EXCERPTS: Read excerpts from The Bigness of the World.


Fiction Writers Review
“I can’t help but imagine how O’Connor might react to its stories, full as they are of godless homosexuals scattered across the globe, whereas O’Connor’s work is unapologetically regional and almost dogmatically Catholic. Even with this wide discrepancy in subject matter, Ostlund’s book is one O’Connor might have chosen herself, so similar are their aesthetics. In fact, Ostlund’s characters in many ways resemble the ones that O’Connor is always pushing toward their inevitable moments of grace—stubborn, overeducated folks who value rationality and discretion to the point of personal isolation.”
[Read J.T. Bushnell’s review]

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Ostlund’s stories are so freakishly focused and darkly atmospheric that you may find yourself especially noticing your fellow human animals’ oddities in the days after you read them, then stepping back for perspective. Ostlund could ask for no better indicator of this collection’s success.”
[Read Pamela Miller’s review]

 San Francisco Chronicle

“Ostlund, whose work has been included in the Best American and also PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, is a writer to watch. She constantly delights the reader with the subtlety of her insights as well as the carefulness of her prose, as we find that beneath the comic observations of cultural misunderstanding, or a couple’s quirky habits, lies a genuine melancholy – and the sense that while there is absurdity in reticence, there is sadness in it too.”
[Read Sylvia Brownrigg’s review]

Prime Number Magazine

All of us, no matter our age or experience, are trying to grasp the bigness of the world. When we read the work of a writer like Ostlund, it almost seems possible.
[Read Joe Mill’s review]

The Short Review

What Lori Ostlund is able to do that many writers fail to do is capture so authentically realisations, moments of change, and the aching truths within her stories.
[Annie Clarkson’s review / interview]


Overall, this is an impressive collection of stories that range widely from tragic to comic (often within the same story). Ostlund has a keen insight into human behavior that allows the reader to recognize themselves in characters with whom, outwardly, they have absolutely nothing in common. And her writing has an old school quality that draws attention not to her style, but to the characters and their stories, which are always compelling.
[Read Laura Pryor’s review]


One of the most remarkable aspects of The Bigness of the World is how Ostlund explores not only the physical geography of this world but also the intimate inner geographies of her varied characters. These inner lives are detailed with such dense, tightly coiled and precise language it becomes easy, as a reader, to find yourself immersed in their hopes, their worries, their minute obsessions, joys and fears. Ostlund wields language in terribly complex ways building exceptional sentences, long and swollen with nuance and history, creating narratives that take the long way around. Each story holds a certain very smart wit that endears.
[Read Roxane Gay’s review]

The Rumpus
There’s a lot to smile at in The Bigness of the World, Lori Ostlund’s Flannery O’Conner Award-winning collection—but there aren’t a lot of jokes. In fact, over the course of a dozen stories, Ostlund presents all kinds of suffering: death, self-mutilation, jail, child abuse, poverty, and an overabundance of breakups. As the title suggests, Bigness is full of characters confronted with the unmapped and unexpected, with newness and unthinkable difference; even as Ostlund’s characters wish for stillness, shit happens. As the narrator tells us at the end of the title story, “the familiar terrain of our childhood would soon become a vast, unmarked landscape.” In depicting this unpredictable world, Ostlund is forced to leave behind the short story’s generic punch-line structure. While her stories often end with surprises, these endings, happily, never really seem to be the point.
[Read review]


Reviewer Anna Clark reviewed THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD as a video review for the November issue of The Collagist.
[Watch review]

“The Bigness of the World
wastes no time in establishing Ostlund as one of the new front-runners in Bay Area short fiction.”
[Read review]

Ostlund’s remarkable debut collection deftly navigates the treacherous shoals of decaying relationships in which the protagonists often escape to faraway lands in order to find themselves, or, at the very least, their partners. Fate, for the globe-trotting teacher-entrepreneur of “And Down We Went,” takes the form of an untimely bird dropping; in “Bed Death,” it is a Malay waitress who casually takes a sip of orange juice from the narrator’s glass. Ostlund’s artful prose is playfully complex and illuminating, evocative and unsentimental, as in “Upon the Completion of Baldness,” in which the narrator’s girlfriend returns home from a trip completely bald. Remarks the narrator, “the chilly desert air seemed to startle her as though, in that moment, she realized that there was a price to be paid for having no hair, and while I still said nothing, I was happy to see her suffer just a bit.” A specific disenchantment inhabits these stories—the disenchantment of the uncompromising romantic confronted with the evaporative nature of love. Each piece is sublime.


“Reviewers can be very protective of first-time authors. We watch as they emerge like fragile hatchlings into the literary world – hollow-boned and downy soft – and pray that an indiscriminate critic doesn’t stroll by and bite off their head… Not that Lori Ostlund will need much protection. The Bigness of the World, Ostlund’s first collection of short stories, was good enough for the judges of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She won the prize in 2008… Deservedly so, for Ostlund has an ear, an appendage often ignored by writers in favor of the flashier eye.”
[Full Review]


Set among such divergent places as small-town Minnesota and an Albuquerque airport, a Belizean café and a hotel swimming pool in Java, Ostlund’s Flannery O’Connor Award–winning debut collection depicts sexually and socially repressed Americans. Men and women who wind up feeling displaced when they fail to escape the influence of their past: ineffectual parents, fathers and lovers who disappear, teachers who struggle to connect with their students, and lifelong obsessions with language. In “Bed Death,” two lesbians flee to Malaysia as a couple to teach only to find their relationship crumbling as they are accepted in their new environment. In “All Boy,” a young logophile encounters the limits of language when he finds he prefers the comfort of a dark closet over the struggle to make friends at school. The narrator in the title story, one of Ostlund’s many smart, manner-conscious characters, expresses her fastidious babysitter’s contempt for “the American compulsion toward brevity.” Witty and sharp, Ostlund has crafted 11 surprising and often very funny tales that remind us just how vast the world really is. — Jonathan Fullmer

The Bigness of the World is simply a stunning collection—every story jewel-crafted and resonant. I read stories to meet people I do not know and have not imagined, but even in that context Lori Ostlund’s people are unique. I begin by thinking that I know these characters or have known them. And then somewhere along the way, they shape shift and startle me. Over and over again I find myself looking at the world from a fresh perspective—this sharp-eyed compassionate writer’s rendering of the world I thought I knew… This is a book to remake our imaginary landscape—the kind of book I not only recommend, I advocate. Read this, I want to tell people. You need these stories… You do.” —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Trash
“These sly stories are funny and unpredictable and graced with priceless details you’ll carry with you long after the last page is turned. Whether charting the loneliness of youth, or tracing the emotional upheavals of lovers abroad, Ostlund proves to be a wise, charming, and irresistible guide.” —Eric Puchner, author of Music Through the Floor: Stories