Discussion Notes: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Next week’s story is Switzerland Today by Michael Chabon

Rated: Adult themes but does not contain adult language

This week the Literary Roadhouse crew enjoyed discussing, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. This story was published in 2000 and brought ZZ Packer attention as a debut short story author. In Drinking Coffee Elsewhere ZZ Packer tackles questions of race, class and sexuality through the eyes of a low-income young black woman in her freshman semester at Yale. While Maya and Gerald both enjoyed the story a great deal, Anais and Rammy did have some issues. The more distant writing was a double edged sword. While smooth and well written, the main character is emotionally shut down and this is mirrored in the narrative.

This story made Maya think about the high rates of smart low income minority students that quit college after working for their lifetime to attend high end universities. Anais enjoyed the substance of the story but chafed against the tone. She felt the story was about all the layers of protection we put up and the stories we tell about ourselves.

Talking with Anais and Rammy made Maya lower her rating. While our comments made Rammy’s rating go up. This is an author that Anais, Maya and Gerald want to continue reading.

Don’t forget to rate the story! For the history of our goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate Drinking Coffee Elsewhere? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give the final tally on the next episode. We are also in desperate need of iTunes reviews. Please search Literary Roadhouse in iTunes and leave reviews for all of our shows.

4 comments on Drinking Coffee Elsewhere | ZZ Packer | Literary Roadhouse Ep 57

  1. Dylan says:

    It’s nothing like what I normally read and I’ve never heard of ZZ Packer so I had no expectations and really liked it. I loved how her descriptions were always short but said a lot. Relatively short considering the room there was to delve. I especially liked when she was waiting for the dean to blink instead of listen to the lecture. And when Heidi says “eh” because she’s Canadian.
    How far in the past is this? Is she still a freshman or this is years later? Is she with a new therapist the whole time?
    I get that nothing really happened, it seemed just consistent. But by the end of it at least she regrets her many missed opportunities. I think she would do it differently if she had the chance. Maybe.
    That cantaloupe thing was weird. One time I was eating cantaloupe in the car and my mom got cancer. 5 berries

    1. Maya Goode says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. She was a new writer to me as well and I’m definitely seeking out more of her work. It will be interesting to see how her writing has changed over time. The Cantaloupe comment stuck out to me as well, but I liked it. That entire section reminded me of how my own attention will jump from one topic oh… squirrel lol. Welcome to the Roadhouse Dylan, I hope to see more of you.

    2. Relistening to the episode and going back to the cantaloupe section, I think Rammy had it right in his comment on the podcast.

      [“Anyway, she’d drive me around in it and although she didn’t like me to eat in it, I always did. One day, I was eating cantaloupe slices, spitting the seeds on the floor. Maybe a month later, I saw this little sprout, growing right up from the car floor. I just started laughing and she kept saying what, what? I was laughing and then I saw she was so—”]

      I think Heidi started laughing at the way something ugly can grow from one little sprout. She was unaware at the time of laughing that her mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. Her mom, knowing this, probably looks terrified. The seed growing = a trigger re: her own secret cancer growing. This is the moment when Heidi’s mom then tells her she has cancer, but Heidi can’t bring herself to say that part of it. But there is a social cue here that Dina (and us readers, save Rammy) missed. Like Rammy said, Dina still thinks Heidi is talking about the car and the seed, but Heidi is explaining the moment she found out her mom has cancer.

      And then Dina realizes her mistake but is too closed off to let herself be vulnerable, admit the mistake, be supportive.

      This could of course also be wrong. 😉 But I like the Rammy theory.

      1. Maya Goode says:

        Yeah, his comment stuck in my craw too. He’s a smart one.

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