‘Drinking Coffee Elsewhere’ by ZZ Packer

It was hard to pick one from this legendary collection – I shuffled between a few before settling, as I’d known I would, on the title story, ‘Drinking Coffee Elsewhere’. This must be one of the best college stories in existence; like I said about Munro, what gets me here is the emotional truth of it. Newly arrived at Yale, Dina says, “if I had to be any object, I guess I’d be a revolver,” an excellent comment from any narrator, which also wins her a year’s worth of psychiatric counselling. She becomes close to another student, and although the friendship ends badly, its growth and unravelling are brilliantly written. It’s been over twenty years since it came out and I still remember the scene of Dina spraying her friend with the squirt gun she uses as a dining hall dishwasher, and what Dina realises in that moment. I still love the image, too, of her friend Heidi soaked in water, in the canteen after hours, “turned over and over like a large beautiful dolphin, lolling about in the sun.”  

First published in The New Yorker, June 200, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Riverhead/Canongate, 2003

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