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          Thisbe Nissen is an astute observer of intertwining tragedies and comedies of everyday American life. What a great joy to read a new collection from her.

— Yiyun Li 

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How Other People Make Love

Wayne State University Press, 2021

In How Other People Make Love, Thisbe Nissen chronicles the lives and choices of people questioning the heteronormative institution of marriage. Not best-served by established conventions and conventional mores, these people — young, old, gay, straight, Midwestern, coastal — are finding their own paths in learning who they are and how they want to love and be loved, even when those paths must be blazed through the unknown. Concerning husbands and wives, lovers and leavers, Nissen’s stories explore our search for connection and all the ways we undercut it, unwittingly and intentionally, when we do find it. How do we hold ourselves together — to function, work, and survive — while endlessly yearning to be undone, unraveled, and laid bare, however untenable and excruciating? How Other People Make Love asserts that there aren’t right and wrong ways to love; there are only our very complicated and contradictory human hearts, minds, bodies, and desires — all searching for something, whether we know what that is or not. These are stories for anyone who has ever loved or been loved.

There's a tragedy, a love story, and most memorably, an utterly transporting sense of place woven into Osprey Island. Pick it up, and feel like you've taken a holiday from the ordinary. — Elle 

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Osprey Island

Knopf, 2004

As summer begins on Osprey Island, preparations at the Lodge — the island’s one and only hotel — are underway for the busy season. On maintenance and housekeeping there’s Lance and Lorna Squire, Osprey locals and raging drinkers; and their irrepressible son Squee. There are college boys to wait tables and Irish girls to clean rooms. And a few unusual returnees, too: Suzy Chizek, single mom and daughter of the Lodge’s owners, who’s looking for a parentally funded vacation; and Roddy Jacobs, another former local, who has come back after a mysterious twenty-year absence. But when tragedy strikes, dark secrets explode, dividing the island community over the fate of a young boy suddenly more vulnerable to his violent father than ever. In the uniquely ephemeral atmosphere of a summer resort, Thisbe Nissen unfolds, with charecteristic warmth and charm, an ever-deepening story of lost loves and found romance, of loyalties and betrayals; and of lingering — sometimes fleeting — joy.

Our Lady of the Prairie

Houghton Mifflin, 2018

In the space of a few torrid months on the Iowa prairie, Phillipa Maakestad — long-married theater professor and mother of an unstable daughter — grapples with a life turned upside down. After falling headlong into a passionate affair during a semester spent teaching in Ohio, Phillipa returns home to Iowa for her daughter Ginny’s wedding. There, Phillipa must endure (among other things) a wedding-day tornado, a menace of a mother-in-law who may or may not have been a Nazi collaborator, and the tragicomic revenge fantasies of her heretofore docile husband. Naturally, she does what any newly liberated woman would do: she takes a match to her life on the prairie and then steps back to survey the wreckage. Set in the seething political climate of a contentious election, Thisbe Nissen's new novel is sexy, smart, and razor-sharp — a freight train barreling through the heart of the land and the land of the heart.

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     Our Lady of the Prairie

delivers this wonderful author's characteristic wit, layered with delicious dysfunction, poignancy, and heart. —Elinor Lipman

The Good People of New York

Knopf, 2001

When Roz Rosenzweig meets Edwin Anderson fumbling for keys on the stoop of a Manhattan walk-up, the last thing on her mind is falling for a polite Nebraskan — yet fall for him she does. So begins Thisbe Nissen’s breathtaking debut novel, a decidedly urban fairy tale that follows Roz and Edwin as they move from improbable courtship to marriage to the birth of daughter Miranda — the locus of all Roz’s attention, anxiety, and often smothering affection. As Miranda comes of age and begins to chafe against the intensity of her mother’s neurotic love, Roz must do her best to let those she cherishes move into the world without her. On crowded subways, in strange bedrooms, at Bar Mitzvahs, in brownstone basements and high school gymnasiums, Nissen’s unforgettable characters make their hilarious and wrenching way — and prove, indeed, that good things thrive in New York City.

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     By turns funny and poignant. . . . Conjures serious emotions with grace, humor and gravity. —San Francisco Chronicle

These stories abound in a rich life, holding sad, awkward, edgy contemporaneity in their generous embrace. They do not soothe or forgive or reassure; they love the creature as it is.— Marilynne Robinson 

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U of Iowa, 1999

Out of the Girls' Room and Into the Night

In Thisbe Nissen's award-winning debut story collection, characters teeter on the verge of love, of life, of oncoming cataclysms after which Things Will Never Be the Same. Against the varied backdrops of Grateful Dead shows, anniversary parties, sickrooms, and bright Manhattan vestibules, Nissen traces the joy, terror, and electric surprise that flash between people as they suddenly connect. A fifteen-year-old girl whose mother is slowly dying finds solace in the bed of her best friend's older brother. A wife remembers the early romance in her marriage as she watches her husband's hand, shaky with Parkinson's, lift a bite of food to his mouth. Longtime friends are jolted by their unforeseen attraction to each other; new lovers feel their way by instinct in vans, on futons, an during risky, late-night conversation. Knowing, often hilarious, and always pitch-perfect, Nissen's tales hang inside those moments when the heart is acting and the head is watching, hopeful that the heart is doing the right thing.

The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook:

with Erin Ergenbright

William Morrow, 2002

They Came, They Cooked, They Left

(But We Ended Up with Some Great Recipes)

We swear we didn't conceive of this book as a way to pick up guys. At least it didn't start out that way. Really: One day we were planning a barbecue at the Iowa farmhouse where we lived and Erin said, "Oh, I'll make Davis's spicy BBQ rub!" And we kind of looked at each other and said, "We should write a cookbook of all the recipes we've gotten from ex-boyfriends over the years!" And an idea was born.

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     This often hilarious hybrid of anecdote and recipes, mixes fact with a bit of fiction or at least exaggeration. — Orlando

Sentinel

most photos by Thisbe