No other author manages to squeeze so much historical detail and under-the-surface emotion into her short stories as Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Her short fiction has enthralled me for years. Although she’s written a novel or two, almost her whole output—17 published books—is in the short story form.
In Munro’s stories time is never strictly chronological. Munro artfully flits between the present and the past. She never loses control. Her transitions are seamless; the reader never has to search or root around for the correct time and place. Also, important to these stories is the emotional arc.
Dear Lifeis her most personal collection yet. To the ten stories included, Munro has added four memoir pieces that are not fiction, although Munro said that she fictionalized certain elements of them. If you’ve read the author’s other collections, you’ll recognize the farmland and small towns near Lake Huron, marked by poverty that Munro returns to again and again. There’s also the young girl or woman breaking away from her family, seeking a better life. Sexuality often becomes a main theme and the endings are seldom happily-ever-after, but more like life, both good and bad, always complicated. Read more »
The Angel Esmeraldais Don DeLillo’s first story collection, and man, can he craft excellent short fiction. Famous for his novels, including Libra and White Noise, DeLillo’s prose is concise, clear, and adept at capturing the inner worlds of his characters. He’s obviously not a prolific short story writer because the nine stories span the years from 1979 to 2011. They are set in many locations including: Manhattan, Greece, the Caribbean, a prison camp for wealthy offenders, and a rocket ship in outer space, among others.
My favorite piece is “Midnight in Dostoyevsky.” It’s about two college students at a wintry, unnamed campus, who love to argue about almost everything, including the big questions of life and a stranger's motivations and unknown family life. At the story’s beginning, they start contesting each other's opinions about another pedestrian even while they are passing him. They have a heated and involved dialogue about whether this old man's hooded winter garment is a parka, an anorak, or something else. These arguments aren’t just idle chatter. For the two students involved, they put their intellectual and perceptive skills on the line, and being right is vital to their sense of pride. Read more »
How Beautiful the Ordinary, edited by Michael Cart, is a welcome addition to the small but growing collection of young adult fiction exploring gender identity and sexual orientation. Being a young person is difficult, what with all the changes physical, emotional, and social. Most of us spend our whole lives getting to know ourselves, and those initial explorations in our youth are some of the most confusing and painful (and exhilarating and profound) because they are so new. All of this can be overwhelming, and when you throw in societal condemnation of some of these identities and/or lifestyles it is especially hard. This collection of short fiction by well-respected young adult authors takes a loving and unrelenting look at the struggle not only to discover what we are as young women and men, but to accept and own that identity as well. Read more »
Enjoy discovering new authors? Or finding new work by favorite ones? Or just checking out what kind of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction shorts the vibrant American small press movement is publishing? This anthology, edited by Bill Henderson, manages to seek out the best new work in American literature year after year.
It opens with a short story by Anthony Doerr titled "The River Nemunas." It's about a 15-year-old with no parents and a poodle named Mishap. Because he has no relatives in the U.S., the boy is sent to live in his grandfather's homeland of Lithuania. For the first time, the teenager sees a place that in the past meant no more to him than a pink spot on the world map. It's a lovely story about an orphan finding a new home after a tragedy. Another interesting story is the funny "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" by Seth Fried; it depicts a Revolutionary War Massacre reenactment that turns out badly. Read more »
Forget the bland title, the latest Best American Nonrequired Reading presents a fresh, amusing, and wide-ranging compendium of last year's best nonfiction and fiction.
It's not just the writing that is fresh but the kinds of content that editor Dave Eggers chose to include are both imaginative and often cutting edge including such categories as: Best American Band Names, Best American Ominous Place Names, Best American Call of Duty Handles, Best Wikileaks Revelations, and Best American Commune Names. The reader senses not only a vibrant sense of humor (see Best American Categories that Got Cut) but someone behind the scenes who is curious, wide-reading, and always eager to learn something new. Also, someone with a great sense of humor. Read more »
I have to admit, even as someone who has great appreciation for short stories, I often find it hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for reading them as I do when approaching the pleasant immersion of a novel. But I’ve proven myself wrong so many times, as I take up a book with a sense of duty and find myself thoroughly enthralled instead. Short stories are perfect for those with a hectic schedule (or a short attention span); they offer condensed, pithy prose and plot, and they can often alert you to a new talent before everyone’s going crazy for their debut novel. I was inspired to write this post by Daniel Orozco’s Orientation, which I just read. “Officer Weeps” in particular is one my my favorite short stories ever. His characters are weird and liminal--a woman on a late-night cookie binge, an ex-dictator, a pair of officers falling in love amidst an odd vandalism streak--and he presents them with hilarious and terrible brevity. Here are a few other collections that I really enjoyed, written with a similarly strange focus and an equal blend of heartbreak and humor. Read more »
Amy Bloom, who used to be a practicing psychotherapist, has won many awards for her short stories. Her latest collection Where the God of Love Hangs Out examines love in many aspects. Bloom shows how it’s possible to fall for an older man with a beer belly who suffers from gout and a life-threatening heart condition. The book features two sets of interrelated stories, the first about two couples—close, long-term friends—whose lives are broken apart and rearranged in new and unconventional ways. The second set of stories explores the lives of a jazz musician's widow and her young adult son, Lionel. These four stories reveal how grief makes some people emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to poor life choices. Read more »