Jayne Anne Phillips Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does the lack of sentimentality in Jayne Anne Phillips’s fiction affect the presentation of its themes?

How is Phillips’s fiction a portrait of the cruelty, desperation, and violence of contemporary American life?

How is Phillips’s fiction an analysis of the mechanization of American life?

Can a case be made that Phillips is essentially a southern writer? Is she part of the southern grotesque tradition?

What does Phillips’s fiction say about the conflicts within families?

How has the Vietnam War influenced Phillips’s characters and themes?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Jayne Anne Phillips’s oeuvre is dominated by her short fiction, which includes contributions to numerous anthologies, she has also written novels such as Counting (1978), Machine Dreams (1984), and Shelter (1994). Indeed, Machine Dreams was such a critical and popular success that it was ultimately translated into fourteen languages.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Jayne Anne Phillips’s work has been critically acclaimed throughout the world, and honors include the Pushcart Prize for her novel Sweethearts (1976), in 1977, as well as for several of her short stories in later years; the O. Henry Award for her short-story “Snow,” in 1980; and a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, an American Library Association Notable Book citation, and a Best Books of 1984 citation for Machine Dreams from The New York Times, all in 1984.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Jayne Anne Phillips has published essays, book reviews, and short stories. In her essays she often focuses on writing and the publishing process. For example, in “The Widow Speaks” (1999; in The Eleventh Draft, edited by Frank Conroy) she discusses writing from the writer’s point of view, and in “Why She Writes” (1999; in Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe) she addresses the need of writers to associate with other writers. Phillips’s essay “Home After Dark: Letter from Paducah,” which deals with a school shooting incident in Kentucky, appeared in Harper’s in 1999. Her book reviews have appeared in such periodicals as New York magazine and The New York Times. Her collections of short stories include Black Tickets (1979) and Fast Lanes (1987).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jayne Anne Phillips’s fiction has been translated into twelve languages, and her stories have been widely anthologized, including in the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. Phillips has won the Pushcart Prize four times, for individual stories and for collections, and an O. Henry Award. She has also received the Fels Award in Fiction from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines (1978), the St. Lawrence Award for Fiction (1979), and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction (for Black Tickets).

Phillips has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978, 1985), and a Bunting Institute Fellowship (1981). Her novels have won numerous honors, including a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, an American Library Association Notable Book citation, a New York Times Best Books citation (1984), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997), a nomination for Britain’s Orange Prize (2001), and a Massachusetts Book Award for MotherKind (2001).


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Carter, Susanne. “Variations on Vietnam: Women’s Innovative Interpretations of the Vietnam War Experience.” Extrapolation 32 (Summer, 1991): 170-183. This article addresses what it calls “the most representative interpretation possible for a war that still begs for definition.” Carter cites Phillips as foremost among the modern innovative writers who reach “beyond the confines of realism to expand the possibilities of interpretation in their individual novels and short stories.” Although this article mainly looks at Machine Dreams, it casts light on similar themes that recur in many of Phillips’s works. Includes a list of works cited.

Edelstein, David. “The Short Story of Jayne Anne Phillips: She Transforms Isolation and Dark Obsession into Exquisite Prose.” Esquire 104 (December, 1985): 108-112. This article gives a good biographical background, including details of Phillips’s childhood and early writing career. Contains comments from one of Phillips’s first writing teachers as well as information on Phillips’s close relationship with her publisher, Seymour (Sam) Lawrence. Also details Phillips’s wanderings across the United States before settling in Boston.

Godden, Richard. “No End to the Work? Jayne Anne Phillips and the Exquisite Corpse of Southern Labor.” Journal of American Studies 36...

(The entire section is 450 words.)