logo
Lessons in Another Language Cover

paper • 210 pages • 18.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-00-0

Add to Cart

Lessons in Another Language: A Novella and Stories is the Bronze Metal Winner in the Short Story for the 2011 IPPY Award, and the Silver Metal Winner in the Short Story for the 2011 Fore Word Reviews Book of the Year Award.

Lessons in Another Language:

A Novella and Stories

Megan Staffel

Not since Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid has there been a book which so articulately reveals the complex
emotional spectrum of children caught in the adult world. The novella and four stories in Lessons in Another
Language give voice to adolescent protagonists who inhabit rich emotional and sensual worlds as they
navigate the wreckage created by the adults meant to be caring for them. In “Daily Life of the Pioneers,” two
misguided parents send their children to an austere summer camp designed to mimic the lives of the “pioneer
children […] your diet will be raw vegetables which are very tasty and very healthy.” “’Why?’” asks one of
the children, a question that resonates through Staffel’s stories as they present the often-naïve ways we adults
project our lives and anxieties onto our children. Charlotte, newly arrived at a Southern college, wanders into
town and is seduced by a thirty-something guy with a car because “the way he looked at her made her feel like
maybe she wasn’t the only refugee. Like maybe he knew her same troubles.” Lessons in Another Language
weaves evocative narratives of abandonment and confusion, of hope betrayed more often than fulfilled.

Nathan Bogmore, the protagonist of the opening story, “The Linguist,” is literally learning a new language,
studying French verbs in the country, where his artist mother has dragged the family on a “working vacation.”
Likewise, all Staffel’s characters find themselves getting “lessons in another language,” the language of
adulthood, of danger and opportunity. Circumstances—an enforced relocation, a trip home, the arrival of new
neighbors and with them a new best friend—veer these characters towards a trouble they’re one step behind
understanding. In the mind of Sam Sperry, the contemplative voice at the center of the tour-de-force novella
“Natives and Strangers,” “It was a big, complicated mess, and the only messes Sam had experience with were
the simple ones that got cleaned up with angry voices, a slap on the face, or a sink full of dish soap.” Staffel’s
noir stories are exquisite, gripping observations of lives humbled by the power of the rural land that surrounds
them, of people haunted by the enormity of their longings. Their lessons and the language they teach us offer a
new and compelling translation of what it means to be a family in the modern world.

About the Author


  • “Megan Staffel does rural and urban, adolescence and adulthood, tough and tender, story and novella, with equal felicity and grace. The range of this collection—emotional and formal—is as astonishing as her rich and tender evocation of what it is to be alive. This is a book with a vigilant spirit, built to linger and bloom.” —Michael Parker
  • “Each of these vividly imagined, richly peopled stories invites the reader into a complete world, and each demonstrates how well Megan Staffel understands the degree to which our lives are defined by family, place and money. In prose both lyrical and colloquial she depicts the lives of characters hovering on the edge of mystery. Lessons in Another Language is a lovely and illuminating collection.” —Margot Livesey
  • "Rich narratives offering new, compelling translations of what it means to be a family in the modern world." - Fore Word Reviews Book of the Year Award
  • "I didn't just read this book. It was one of the rare ones that could be savored. The flow of prose unwinding transparent and tensile as spider silk, lightness catching the light." - Stuart Dybek

Also by Megan Staffel