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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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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