Eugenides (Middlesex, 2002, etc.) offers a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for lovers of literary fiction.
His witty introduction, which channels Roman love poet Catullus and woolgathers engagingly about the “perishable nature of love,” is only the first among numerous pleasures that await the reader of this generously proportioned—only a cad would call it “fat”—gathering of 26 stories, written within the past 120 years. Inevitable choices include Anton Chekhov’s wistful tale of compromised romantic opportunity, “Lady with the Little Dog”; James Joyce’s incandescent, enormously moving elegy, “The Dead”; Vladimir Nabokov’s ebulliently poetic “Spring in Fialta”; even, for heaven’s sake, William Faulkner’s exceedingly nasty gothic chiller, “A Rose for Emily.” Other authors now securely ensconced as modern classics include Isaac Babel (do not, under any circumstances, overlook his wonderful “First Love”), Milan Kundera, William Trevor, Colette Eileen Chang and the demanding modernist Robert Musil, whose intricate, bleak “Tonka” embraces both a frustrating enigma and a wrenching emotional experience. Three contemporary masterpieces stand out: Raymond Carver’s Hemingway-derived, nonetheless seminal “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”; Deborah Eisenberg’s sophisticated, ingenious character study, “Some Other, Better Otto”; and Alice Munro’s heartbreaking portrayal of a woman lost to Alzheimer’s and the husband who, in losing her love, is paradoxically elevated and transfigured by his grief, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Several pleasant surprises include Miranda July’s cunningly plotted “Something That Needs Nothing”; Stuart Dybek’s disturbingly acerbic “We Didn’t”; David Bezmogis’s (Philip) Roth-ian “Natasha”; and Gilbert Sorrentino’s virtuosic deployment of sardonic and lyrical linked vignettes, “The Moon In Its Flight.”
One of the best anthologies of recent years, as well as commanding proof that its editor is as expert a reader and critic as he is a novelist.