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The Strange Case of Dr. Couney

Forthcoming from Blue Rider Press (a division of Penguin) on July 31, 2018:


The Strange Case of Dr. Couney is the extraordinary tale of how a mysterious immigrant "doctor" became the revolutionary innovator of saving premature babies--by placing them in incubators in World's Fair side shows and on Coney Island and Atlantic City.

Was Martin Couney a showman with an interest in medicine, or a doctor with an interest in showmanship? Or even a doctor? In Dawn Raffel's exceptional history, what matters most is that Couney figured out he could use incubators and careful nursing to keep previously doomed tiny infants alive--and at the same time make a lot of coin by displaying these babies alongside sword swallowers and bearded ladies on the midway. How this turn of the 20th century émigré became the savior of families with premature infants, known then as "weaklings" -- while ignoring the scorn of the medical establishment -- is one of the most astounding, unlikely and ultimately life-changing stories of modern medicine.

Drawing on newly discovered documents, obscure contemporary reports and interviews with some of the (now) elderly surviving infants, Raffel, an acclaimed journalist and magazine editor, explores Couney's mysterious carnival career, his larger-than-life personality and his almost unfathomable success as a baby saver -- all in the context of miracles occurring in the most unlikely ways. Couney gave the masses entertainment and the families of preemie infants hope.

In the Year of Long Division

First published in 1995 by Knopf, In the Year of Long Division, is now out as an e-book from Dzanc books. It was a Barnes & Nobles Discover book when it was first released and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.


"Raffel has the ability to turn the tiniest details into poetry"—Publisher's Weekly

"A writer of obvious and extreme talent"—The Los Angeles Times

"A dreamlike collection"—The San Francisco Chronicle

"Adventurous reading for real grownups"—The Denver Post

"A tremendously innovative prose style"—City Pages, Minneapolis

"As is has been with every new writer of intricate beauty and substance, so must it be with Dawn Raffel, a writer who is, in Gerard Manley Hopkins's words, 'spare, original, strange.' Here again is the joy of wonderment, of first discovery—a book to ponder, to read and reread, to share with other lovers of literature, to give as a gift—which is what In the Year of Long Division was to me."—Tillie Olsen

Further Adventures in the Restless Universe


"The stories in Dawn Raffel's astonishing Further Adventures in the Restless Universe (Dzanc) as as sharp and bright as stars." --Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair

"The short stories in Dawn Raffel's new collection Further Adventures in the Restless Universe (Dzanc Books) are gently interlaced--the same scarf from one story is purchased in another, for instance--yet rife with the author's deft, lyrical prose. They strikingly explore how small moments can influence personal and familial identity." --Mallory Rice in Nylon

"Raffel’s work sits comfortably with that of authors like Amy Hempel and Diane Williams: Her prose is intense enough to make even everyday topics seem fire-hot. Tonight, she reads from and discusses her latest story collection Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, which captures family life in intensely wrought prose"--Time Out New York

"Sharp, spare stories about women at, or approaching, the end of their ropes." --Sara Nelson, O, The Oprah Magazine

"Highly imaginative stories filled with sly wit..."--Carmela Ciuraru, More Magazine

"In her elegant second collection (after the novel Carrying the Body), Raffel finds lyrical appeasement in the everyday concerns of raising children, being a dutiful daughter and wife, and simply enduring one's family. The mother of a seven-year-old son in “Her Purchase” is viewed as a master of the child's universe, teaching him everything he knows, exhausted by his constant asking of questions, yet amazed, too, that she can still cherish his happiness. Raffel employs mannered dialogue to artful effect throughout, such as the phone conversation between two sisters in “The Interruption,” in which one attempts to tell the story of how their great-aunt came from Poland to Chicago, but spirals into a halfhearted musing on frustrations in love. The mother-daughter getaway depicted in “North of the Middle” allows the pair to dissect their frozen relationship in conversations that underscore their inability to communicate. “The Air and Its Relatives” is a marvelous glimpse at the evolution of a father-daughter relationship through snapshots of his teaching her to drive and other telling flashbacks. Raffel's stripped-to-the-bone prose is a model of economy and grace."--Publisher's Weekly

"With 21 stories in just under 100 pages, and in prose as lean and demanding as poetry, Raffel's slender second collection of short fiction holds a surprising amount of compassion and wisdom between its covers. Like those of Lydia Davis or Mary Robison, Raffel's playful metaphors and vivid snapshots of domestic life offer joy and insight. Her characters, mostly disillusioned or fearful mothers and daughters, are ever hopeful in their daily endeavors to communicate with those they love most?their families. A woman takes her seven-year-old son on a museum tour, fighting to strike a balance between motherly instruction and allowing her son to discover things for himself. Unable to sleep, a man implores his dozing wife to confess the true account of a drowned woman she often repeats. A mother finds it easier to teach her son words in other languages than to keep her promise to tell him a bedtime story. These reflective, well-tempered fictions are bursting with energy, requiring readers to look more closely at the world around them."--Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist

"Less has never been more than in Dawn Raffel's 'Further Adventures in the Restless Universe.' These spare, high-intensity stories of brave people at the end of their ropes are not only models of writerly integrity, but monuments of the spirit asserting itself out of the depths of silence."
--David Gates

"Readers have come to expect from Dawn Raffel’s prose nothing less than the syllable-by-syllable perfections of purest poetry and the boldest wisdom a human heart can hold. Her new collection of pithy, exquisite fictions about the timeless crises of mothers, daughters, and wives is breathtaking and haunting in its majestic exactitudes." –Gary Lutz

"Dawn Raffel's stories are like prismatic drops of rain, hanging from the edge of a roof or sliding down a windshield, reflecting an entire world within. The language of motherhood, of adulthood, of childhood — the language of family and individual — has never been like this. Sly and probing, with the sting of precision and pain."
—Susan Straight

"In Dawn Raffel's Further Adventures in the Restless Universe the oppressive truth of our mortality unsettles but does not vanquish the spirit. The woman as drudge may be "a failure at folding," but she is a rare songmaker whose dialogues with a son, a sister — the usual figures from the family romance — make for a musical and philosophical call and response. The son proposes one way to keep birds from crashing into fatally clear windows is to "open the windows all over the world." These stories promise more life. Take them to heart!"
—Christine Schutt

Carrying the Body


"Raffel's writing snatches the breath out of your body and engages you in untangling the mystery of this family."--USA Today

"Exquisite prose and a keen unflinching eye for the subtleties of familial disintegration"
--The Review of Contemporary Fiction

"As compressed and urgent as a telegram, this book evokes furtive passions and dreams that push relentlessly toward the light."--O, The Oprah Magazine

"Extreme literature" --Publisher's Weekly

"Cryptic but oddly compelling...there is no denying the power of the language."

"Raffel's use of language is potent...certainly worth the disquietude it creates."
--Library Journal

"This taut, evocative tale of two sisters, a child, an insensate father and a dead mother, is a kind of family horror story in the manner of the grim tale of the Three Little Pigs, told and retold here. Dawn Raffel is a writer of genuine orginality and integrity."--Robert Coover

"Carrying the Body" draws you in and keeps you spellbound by the mesmerizing power of Raffel's prose."--Esmeralda Santiago

"Dawn Raffel is one of America's freshest voices since Faulkner. Carrying the Body isn't read. it's absorbed through the pores."--Patricia Volk

"Carrying the Body has a poetic grace that smuggles its emotional power into your head. Long after you have finished the novel, the exquisite imagery and language linger and echo. Surely Raffel doesn't write with ordinary tools--she must engrave her words onto fine stones with a tiny, diamond-tipped chisel."--Katharine Weber