Suitable Accommodations

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

J. F. Powers; Edited by Katherine A. Powers

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A wry, moving collection of letters from the late J. F. Powers, “a comic writer of genius” (Mary Gordon)

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.

An NPR Best Book of 2013


Read an Excerpt

Fortunately, I am under no obligation to earn a living wage
September 8, 1942–November 6, 1945
In 1942, when this story begins, Jim was twenty-five years old and living in Chicago with his parents in their apartment at 4453 North Paulina Street. He had a job at the wholesale book company A. C. McClurg and was also writing. His story “He Don’t Plant Cotton” (whose characters were based on the jazz musicians Baby Dodds, Jimmie Noone, and Lonnie Johnson) was accepted by Accent: A Quarterly of New Literature. The magazine had been founded in 1940


Praise for Suitable Accommodations

“A major literary accomplishment” Booklist (Starred review)

“In these letters, Powers shows a winning modesty, playing neither the whining, unappreciated artist nor the man the fates have treated unfairly. Drollery abounds: If an American is ever made pope, he writes to a friend, he should take the name Bingo.” —Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

“There are times when you want to wring Powers’s neck, but you can’t help caring about him, liking him, rooting for him....I do wish that Powers would find the readers he deserves, just as Peter Taylor did against almost all the odds, but he seems fated to be a writer known to too few, like Isabel Colegate, J.G. Farrell or Mordecai Richler. Pretty good company, it says here.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“What’s amazing, given this meandering and self-mortifying life, is how often Suitable Accommodations made me laugh….devotees of the author’s work…will recognize his voice in an instant: droll, delicious, resigned to the mass production of human folly, including his own.” —James Marcus, The Los Angeles Times

“[Suitable Accommodations] reads like a fully realized epistolary novel, by turns exasperating and poignant and always funny.” —D. G. Myers, The Daily Beast

“…observant, witty, and self-deprecating…” —Paul Elie, Harper’s

“Fascinating, funny, and disturbing.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“These vibrant letters… reveal a restless, promising writer and family man with a wry sense of humor and a hunger for literary camaraderie…this collection serves as a touching portrait of one writer’s struggle.” Publishers Weekly 

“One of the funniest, most socially exact, heartrending and thoroughly enjoyable writers alive.” —Jonathan Raban, The Sunday Times (London)
“I see no limit to his possible achievement.” —Evelyn Waugh, CommonWealth

In the Press

- The Washington Post
‘Suitable Accommodations’ compiles J.F. Powers’s letters into an autobiography
- The Washington Post
J.F. Powers' 'Suitable Accommodations' is a peek at his life - latimes.com
Writer J.F. Powers ('Morte D'Urban') inspired a small but loyal following. His letters shed light on a peripatetic family life.
- Los Angeles Times

Reviews from Goodreads



  • J. F. Powers; Edited by Katherine A. Powers

  • J. F. Powers died in 1999 at the age of eighty-one. His two novels and a collected volume of his short stories are available as NYRB Classics. Katherine A. Powers is a book columnist and reviews books widely.

  • J. F. Powers Russell Roe


Available Formats and Book Details

Suitable Accommodations

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

J. F. Powers; Edited by Katherine A. Powers

NPR Best Book of the Year, Minneapolis Star Tribune Holiday Book Recommendations


Farrar, Straus and Giroux