Bargains in the Real World page image

-- from The Last Fourth Grade

I know almost nothing about prisons, but I know enough to hold my glance at the level of an inmate's eyes, and to keep my expression absent of pity. I know how to look straight at people, with no judgment. I learned this particular sensitivity in the fourth-grade class of Mrs. Natalie Johnson. She instructed us to look people in the eye, especially if they were poor or had some misshapen feature. She said it was unkind not to do so. But Mrs. Johnson is an inmate in the Virginia Prison for Women. I have come to visit her, bringing books, a long loaf of bread, and I have been told that I will be escorted to a room with tables, a pot of tea, and privacy.

-- from A Sounding Brass

It was one of those hot Augusts in southern Georgia when the days are especially long and nights rise up softly out of the ground almost without any notice, until suddenly it is late, ten o'clock, and the children are still outside. But they had not noticed that dark had come, had settled onto the objects around them. Ginny, too, was surprised at how the night had crept up.

-- from Washed

Until recently Ariel Dawson thought that love was a lie.

For years her mother told her that people could fool themselves into loving someone before they realized that nothing about love was true. "You'll see," her mother said. "There are so many ways you can be fooled." The warning lodged in Ariel's mind like a mantra, and at age twenty-seven she struggled not to believe her mother's words. Then one morning Ariel found three big words in blue chalk written on the sidewalk outside her house: SOMEBODY LOVES YOU.

-- From the novel


In this finely crafted collection, acclaimed writer Elizabeth Cox examines the lives of common people and how they deal with life when uncommon things happen to them — how they accept their fate, sometimes choosing to move on, sometimes not. The stories, many set in the South, deal with questions of loyalty, betrayal, discovery, sexuality, death, birth, and the inner dynamics that drive the choices we make. The characters struggle with a complex mixture of kindness and violence, and their final choices reveal a flawed but finally compassionate humanity.

Elizabeth Cox has an extraordinary talent for inhabiting her characters and capturing place, sense, and time. This commanding group of stories will prove unforgettable.

Contains the 1994 O. Henry Award winning story, "The Third of July."


"What I so admire about Elizabeth Cox's stories are their restraint and their clarity. The deceptively quiet worlds she imagines and her seemingly simple sentences gradually betray fissures and complexities that have the power to thrill."

—Jane Hamilton

"Elizabeth Cox's stories are instantly compelling and richly gratifying. She writes with a bold, direct narrative style, but it is suffused with warmth and lovely description. She concocts a portrait of the South that is familiar but not stereotyped, intricate, but not muddy or full of kudzu. Bargains in the Real world is a bargain anywhere."

—Bobbie Ann Mason

"Though these stories are told in a plain tone of quiet assurance they are nevertheless dazzling; each one of them moves the reader to a new place in the mind. 'Old court' is one of the very best stories I have ever read, and the rest are equally accomplished. This is a stunning collection."

—Lee Smith

"To begin with, it takes a strong, loving, and careful eye to see the real world; then it takes a judicious as well as a compelling text of words and melody to express it; then it takes courage to let the narrative rest, as it often must, not in a satisfying resolution but at the edge of a cliff. Those who know Elizabeth Cox as a person and as a writer know that she is continually courageous and melodious and has never yet softened the difficult facts of the world. Her stories are treasures, full of truth, possibility, and beauty."

—Mary Oliver