Biographies & Memoirs

Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963

Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963

Best known for his 1963 National Book Award–winning novel, Morte D'Urban, and as a master of the short story, J. F. Powers drew praise from Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O'Connor, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, among others. Though Powers's fiction dwelt chiefly on the lives of Catholic priests, he long planned to write a novel of family life, a feat he never accomplished. He did, however, write thousands of letters, which, selected here by his daughter, Katherine A. Powers, become an intimate version of that novel, dynamic with plot and character. They show a dedicated artist, passionate lover, reluctant family man, pained aesthete, sports fan, and appreciative friend. At times wrenching and sad, at others ironic and exuberantly funny, Suitable Accommodations is the story of a man at odds with the world and, despite his faith, with his church. Beginning in prison, where Powers spent more than a year as a conscientious objector, the letters move on to his courtship, marriage, comically unsuccessful attempt to live in the woods, life in the Midwest and in Ireland, an unorthodox view of the Catholic Church, and an increasingly bizarre search for "suitable accommodations," which included three full-scale emigrations to Ireland. Here, too, are encounters with such diverse people as Thomas Merton, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Sean O'Faolain, Frank O'Connor, Dorothy Day, and Alfred Kinsey.


Chapter 1. Fortunately, I am under no obligation to earn a living wage - September 8, 1942–November 6, 1945

Chapter 2. With you it will be like being ten years old again - November 12, 1945–November 29, 1945

Chapter 3. Should a giraffe have to dig dandelions? - December 4, 1945–January 26, 1946

Chapter 4. It would seem you have the well-known business sense - January 29, 1946–February 14, 1946

Chapter 5. I am like Daniel Boone cutting my way through that bourgeois wilderness - February 14, 1946–April 26, 1946

Chapter 6. Something seems to be missing, and you say it’s me - Memorial Day 1946–April 3, 1947

Chapter 7. Camaraderie - July 9, 1947–October 14, 1947

Chapter 8. I’ve a few stipulations to read into the rural-life-family-life jive - November 6, 1947–April 5, 1948

Chapter 9. The truth about me is that I just don’t qualify as the ideal husband - July 1948–Christmas 1948

Chapter 10. If you can’t win with me, stop playing the horses! - January 18, 1949–September 6, 1949

Chapter 11. I’m beyond the point where I think the world is waiting for me as for the sunrise - September 19, 1949–October 7, 1951

Chapter 12. The water, the green, the vines, stone walls, the pace, all to my taste - November 7, 1951–November 3, 1952

Chapter 13. In Ireland, I am an American. Here, I’m nothing - Christmas 1952–June 3, 1953

Chapter 14. A place too good to believe we live in - October 5, 1953–April 14, 1954

Chapter 15. I had a very fine time—laughing as I hadn’t in years - April 23, 1954–July 14, 1954

Chapter 16. There have been times, though not recently, when it has seemed to me that I might escape the doom of man - September 2, 1954–January 10, 1956

Chapter 17. Four children now, Jack. And this year, the man said, bock beer is not available in this area - February 29, 1956–August 24, 1956

Chapter 18. The Man Downstairs is entertaining tonight. Pansy and Dwight are quiet - September 25, 1956–January 12, 1957

Chapter 19. This room is like a dirty bottle, but inside is vintage solitude - January 23, 1957–August 1, 1957

Chapter 20. Scabrous Georgian, noble views of the sea, turf in the fireplaces - October 14, 1957–February 13, 1958

Chapter 21. The office is in Dublin, on Westland Row - February 26, 1958–July 23, 1958

Chapter 22. About Don, I haven’t been the same since I read your letter - July 26, 1958–November 29, 1958

Chapter 23. Back and wondering why - December 22, 1958–August 25, 1959

Chapter 24. The J. F. Powers Company: “The Old Cum Permissu Superiorum Line” - September 19, 1959–June 14, 1960

Chapter 25. No money is the story of my life - July 6, 1960–April 3, 1962

Chapter 26. The day was like other days, with the author napping on the floor in the middle of the afternoon - April 12, 1962–September 1962

Chapter 27. As a winner, let me say you can’t win, not on this course - October 23, 1962–August 29, 1963

Chapter 28. Ireland grey and grey and grey, then seen closer, green, green, green - September 23, 1963–Christmas 1963

Afterword: Growing Up in This Story


Appendix: Cast of Characters + Source Notes

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