Though more radical narrative strategies aren’t represented, the selection is of such consistently high quality that almost...


Among the 20 competitors in what novelist Patchett (Bel Canto, 2001, etc.) terms “the short story Olympics,” there are plenty of worthy contenders for the gold medal.

As usual, this annual anthology mixes stories from perennial favorites (including former guest editors Tobias Wolff and Ann Beattie, and the obligatory and always welcome Alice Munro) with selections from small-circulation literary journals, highlighting the range of possibility within the genre. Where a short-story collection by a single author tends to repeat patterns, rhythms and themes, there’s a much greater sense of serendipity and surprise here. Whether because of the luck of this year’s draw or the preferences of the guest editor, the narratives are typically more straightforward than experimental, frequently first person, strong on the storytelling verities of plot, character and dialogue. Many of them (including Donna Tartt’s “The Ambush,” Maxine Swann’s “Secret” and Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh”) concern adolescent initiation and rites of passage. Though all of the writers are North American, the settings extend from a Korean island resort (Paul Yoon’s “Once the Shore”) and dog racing in Beijing (Jack Livings’s “The Dog”) to the Bosnian poetry community (Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Conductor”) and an American’s return to his family’s native Latvia (“A New Gravestone for an Old Grave”). Many of the stories tend toward the short side, but the last and longest is the most wickedly funny, as Beattie lampoons the bi-coastal memorial services of an esteemed painter turned alcoholic, pornographic comics illustrator. The shortest and strangest is Robert Coover’s “Grandmother’s Nose,” in which a young girl (in another rite of passage) comes to terms with death in a fairy-tale subversion of “Little Red Riding Hood.” In one of the most inventive, Katherine Bell’s “The Casual Car Pool” finds a sky-diving parachutist caught on a bridge, disrupting rush hour and complicating the lives of three strangers sharing a ride to qualify for the car-pool lane.

Though more radical narrative strategies aren’t represented, the selection is of such consistently high quality that almost any of these stories could be some reader’s favorite.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-54351-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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