A fine celebration of the many guises a short story can take while still doing its essential work.

THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2019

Latest installment of the long-running (since 1915, in fact) story anthology.

Helmed by a different editor each year (in 2018, it was Roxane Gay, and in 2017, Meg Wolitzer), the series now falls to fiction/memoir writer Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See, 2014, etc.) along with series editor Pitlor. A highlight is the opener, an assured work of post-apocalyptic fiction by young writer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah that’s full of surprises for something in such a convention-governed genre: The apocalypse in question is rather vaguely environmental, and it makes Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go seem light and cheerful by contrast: “Jimmy was a shoelooker who cooked his head in a food zapper,” writes Adjei-Brenyah, each word carrying meaning in the mind of the 15-year-old narrator, who’s pretty clearly doomed. In Kathleen Alcott’s “Natural Light,” which follows, a young woman discovers a photograph of her mother in a “museum crowded with tourists.” Just what her mother is doing is something for the reader to wonder at, even as Alcott calmly goes on to reveal the fact that the mother is five years dead and the narrator lonely in the wake of a collapsed marriage, suggesting along the way that no one can ever really know another’s struggles; as the narrator’s father says of a secret enshrined in the image, “She never told you about that time in her life, and I believed that was her choice and her right.” In Nicole Krauss’ “Seeing Ershadi,” an Iranian movie actor means very different things to different dreamers, while Maria Reva’s lyrical “Letter of Apology” is a flawless distillation of life under totalitarianism that packs all the punch of a Kundera novel in the space of just a dozen-odd pages. If the collection has a theme, it might be mutual incomprehension, a theme ably worked by Weike Wang in her standout closing story, “Omakase,” centering on “one out of a billion or so Asian girl–white guy couples walking around on this earth.”

A fine celebration of the many guises a short story can take while still doing its essential work.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-48424-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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