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The gift bearer -- Story hour -- My imaginary father -- Matter of ages -- American gothic -- Funeral -- A San Francisco woman -- Donovan, the cat man -- The thumping of the grass -- Powers being himself -- Gerald's song -- Blather -- Mastodon's box.


With a variety of themes and techniques, Philip F. O'Connor's stories progress in tone from hopeful to nearly hopeless; in subjects from communal to private; in milieu from personal to cosmic. The early stories, set in San Francisco, suggest Mr. O'Connor's Irish-American boyhood. Later stories sharply evoke the toughening experiences of adolescence. Finally, the stories enter an adult world where characters struggle desperately, often comically, in situations that are, at best, thinly hopeful.

From the opening stories, which display a more traditional realistic mode, the fiction moves into lyricism and other experimental prose, with a striking effect on the reader's consciousness. Mr. O'Connor skillfully uses language to activate the senses and to draw one into the characters.

His style alters with the demands of each story. “Each story has its own reasons and its own music,” the author says. The origins of his short stories are not ideas, but fascination with characters. “What people do is what interests me, and fiction is about that.”

Series Title

Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction

Award Date



Elliott, George P.

Publication Date



University of Iowa Press


Iowa City

Total Pages


ISBN of Print Version



Copyright © 1971 by Philip F. O'Connor. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Old Morals, Small Continents, Darker Times