Bosnian writer Bakic’s debut teems with the oddball narratives of George Saunders, the eerie atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe, and the feminist intellect of Marge Piercy. Her characters all, in one form or another, use language to survive, to manipulate, or to shine. Continue reading…
Nearly every season, the literary world is introduced to some wunderkind writer who, at some stupidly young age like 21 or 22, has crafted a debut novel (usually) that is wise way beyond its fresh-faced author’s years. The attention placed on their books has as much to do with the novelty of precocity as it does with the merit of the work, if only because most of us, having lived through our early 20s without producing a masterpiece, know how difficult such a feat is to accomplish. Moreover, many readers enter into the highly extolled books of the preternaturally gifted with dubiousness, almost a suspicion of such quickly realized talent, so that upon publication the impassioned responses are drastically polarized between those much impressed by the early effort and those for whom it is nothing more than crass publicity on the part of the publisher and less the insights of some twenty-something genius.
On the 30th Anniversary of Borges’s death. Maybe my favorite essay I’ve published yet.
“The Other” and “August 25, 1983” are twin stories sharing a mirror: a young man fears the unknown future, while an old man accepts the unchangeable past. (In fact many have dismissed Borges’s later work as “geriatrica” too full of nostalgia.) But as I read Borges’s Selected Non-Fictions, his essays and reviews I considered taking him at his word: maybe there are two Borges in the world, existing at the same time. One is the fiction writer we know, the lover of paradox, the trickster, the forger, the artist who describes fantastical events with straight-faced authority, using the syntax and tone of academia; and then there is this other Borges, the critic, who writes reasonably and clearly, companionably and insightfully, about high-brow and esoteric subjects, whose aim is elucidation rather than bewilderment. As I moved through each review and essay of Selected Non-Fictions, I felt a similar shock that the young Borges did upon seeing his own name on the register: this couldn’t possibly be the same Borges, could it?
To celebrate National Short Story month, here are fourteen innovative and unique story collections, the kinds that contain wonderful tales but also add up to a singular, cumulative experience. Instead of disparate narratives one after the other, these are stories as riffs, as meditations, as commentary, as thematic development, and collections as standalone works of art, which show that stories needn’t be isolated figures, like trees, but can become, in the right hands, forests and jungles—or better yet they can be turned into houses, and it doesn’t matter that you can’t recognize the individual trees.
An Interview w/ National Book Award-nominee Karen E. Bender | Literary Hub
According to herself, Karen E. Bender feels “more natural” as a short story writer, and, according to me, she’s a fantastic one. The stories in her first collection Refund aim directly at their targets, the prose clean and sharp, unobtrusive but startling—in other words, she’s the kind of writer who employs her language in the service of her characters and her situations. Authors of this ilk—Jhumpa Lahiri, Nathan Englander, Antonya Nelson, Rebecca Lee—possess a confidence that may seem undercut by the lack of flash, but make no mistake: it takes a great deal of self-belief and skill to focus on a story’s content (and content that, it should be noted, pursues real human moments rather than histrionic drama) rather than its presentation.
Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem | PANK
The short story form serves Jonathan Lethem well. An imagination and intellect as keen as fertile as Lethem’s can take any idea and run with it for as long as he likes, which can result in, for instance, his disastrous 2009 novel Chronic City. Or it can produce something wondrous like The Fortress of Solitude. But Lethem’s stories, like his essays, allow him to explore a conceit with the same brilliant mind while simultaneously preventing him from wearing out his literary welcome.
In Praise of Unlinked Story Collections | Literary Hub
But what I want to praise are collections in which the stories are unrelated, in which the characters are distinct, and the whole of the book isn’t a perfectly cohesive unit but is instead a messy depiction of numerous lives. Of course we assume that writers and publishers spend a lot of time organizing each story of a collection; we believe they try to create a thematic arc, a rhythm to the order, which hopefully makes the reading experience more consistent and enjoyable. But here’s the thing: this matters to me not at all. I do not need a collection to feel “cohesive,” nor do I spend too much time considering the order. Rather, what I adore is precisely the opposite: a rattling journey from plot to plot, from character to character, from idea to idea.
Late Lights by Kara Weiss | PANK
Late Lights is a book of stories so connected, they basically make up a novel. But at 123 pages, it’s more like a novella in stories, a combination of two types of fiction that don’t ordinarily sell well. Story collections, the popular publishing wisdom goes, only interest MFA students, while novellas, apparently, interest no one. That Weiss not only published the book but also won two Next Generation Indie Book Awards makes the rarity of her achievement all the more atypical.
Crude Sketches Done in Quick Succession by Andrew Brininstool | Necessary Fiction
Sometimes Brininstool’s stories recall Tom Perrotta, the master of suburban ennui, while at other times there is the undeniable influence of George Saunders. You get the feeling of a novice (though very talented) writer finding his voice. The book works better in individual stories than it does as a whole. The two best pieces here are worth the cover price, and it seems no coincidence that they do not feature callow, equivocating men.