Set within a backdrop of small towns and hard-working communities in middle America, The Whole World at Once is a collection of intense stories about the experience of loss. Pringle weaves together spellbinding tales amidst shadowed and foreboding physical and emotional landscapes where each of the characters is in motion against her surroundings, and each is as likely as the next to be traveling with a ghost. A soldier returns home from multiple tours only to begin planting landmines in the field behind his house; kids chase a ghost story up country roads only to become one themselves; one girl copes with the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance during the agricultural fair, while another girl searches for understanding after seeing the picture of a small boy washed onto a beach.
In language that is at once both stark and rich, we enter the lives of the characters deliberately, in slow scenes—time enough for a bird to sing as a man and a girl, strangers, fall to their knees—that are inevitable yet laced with the unpredictable. Dark, strange beauties, all of the stories in The Whole World at Once follow the lives of people grappling with what it means to live in a world with death.
How the Sun Burns among Hills of Rock and Pebble
The Boy Who Walks
The Boy in the Red Shirt
When the Frost Comes
This Bomb My Heart
The Lightning Tree
The Missing Time
The Wandering House
Reading and Discussion Questions
About the Author
Erin Pringle is the author of The Floating Order. Her work has been selected as a Best American Notable Non-Required Reading, shortlisted for the Charles Pick Fellowship, and a finalist for contests such as the Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest and the Kore Press Short Fiction Award. She was awarded a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship, which she used to write and revise many of these stories. Learn more at erinpringle.com.
"Ms. Pringle casts a somber gaze at the formative traumas that beset blue-collar America. In "The Wandering House," a young woman is disfigured in a meth-lab explosion. The subtly disquieting tale "The Boy Who Walks" depicts a child's personality change after he nearly freezes to death while wandering through the snow. "After that day, the boy's different. Like his own ghost thinks he died, though he didn't, but now tags him everywhere he goes." You can feel that Ms. Pringle has labored over her sentences, giving them the strength of tempered steel. She has a knack for the cinematic image as well."
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Erin Pringle’s stories leave you no choice. They sing so gorgeously, break your heart so perfectly, that you’re forced to revise your understanding of loss, luck, and love.”
Tom Noyes, author of Come by Here: A Novella and Stories
“Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite shape, will find reflected in these stories the unsteady path of coming back to life—or not—after loss.”
“In these restless and relentless fictions, the unstoppable storyteller Erin Pringle is at it again. “It” being the most American of dramas—the endless conflict between mobility and stability. In these patently patient, transparently transparent, overly understated stories, the characters constantly fidget and fret in low frequency worries all the while their vital signs are sighing and simmering. These are pristine and persistent visions of hobble-hearted people going nowhere fast. Her writing, word after word, will stop you in your tracks, will ease you over the edgiest of edges. Don’t blink!”
Michael Martone, author of Michael Martone and Four for a Quarter
“There’s no writer working today who excites me more than Erin Pringle. Her stories stretch like planks off a cliff, past solid ground, offering breath-stealing views of grief, love, and mystery. I love this collection.”
Owen Egerton, author of The Book of Harold and writer and director of the thriller Follow
“A strikingly original collection. This book is poetic, yet has a deep sense of storytelling.”
Laura Long, author of Out of Peel Tree and editor of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia