These 38 stories, almost all short-shorts, were originally chosen by the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project to be published in newspapers and read aloud on ``The Sound of Writing,'' an NPR program. Solid work from a mixture of literary celebrities and relative unknowns more than make up for an overall slightness (dictated by the restricted format). The stories, limited to 2500 words, are intended, according to Marshall, to return fiction ``to the pages of Sunday magazines....'' Many of the pieces from brand-name writers are satisfying, if limited. Edward Abbey's ``Drunk in the Afternoon'' 2is an amusing sketch: ``Getting Drunk in the afternoon was something I once did on a regular weekly basis for many years.'' John Updike's ``The Football Factory'' is a densely detailed description from the point of view of a visiting dignitary; Joyce Carol Oates's ``Where Is Here?,'' a taut Kafkaesque drama, concerns a stranger who visits his childhood home and the family who now reside there. Some of the writers seem cramped by the word-count, but others, those who usually work in lyrical prose, are right at home: Rick Bass's ``Heartwood,'' about two wild boys who take to spiking trees, is typical of such pieces in the way it manages to render a closely observed instance and come to a summarizing epiphany: ``In the end, it all comes down to luck. Remember this and be grateful, be frightened.'' Since more than 2000 manuscripts were submitted to the PEN competition, luck and previous reputation had a good deal to do with what appears here. Though the short-short form is more conductive to light humor, limited effects, and luminous prose than to sea changes or tragic range, the best of these bathe the world, as Louise Erdrich's own quasimystical offering asserts, ``in a great surge of forgiving radiance.''
Read full book review >