A welcome gathering of work, some not often anthologized, by an unrivaled master of the short story form.

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FIFTY-TWO STORIES

The indefatigable translating team of Pevear and Volokhonsky deliver a first-rate collection of Chekhov’s stories that highlight their “extraordinary variety.”

In his lifetime, Chekhov (1860-1904), physician and writer, was accused of immorality because he wrote of the lives of little people with little problems rather than taking the god’s-eye perspective of a Tolstoy. His reply: “What makes literature art is precisely its depiction of life as it really is.” Pevear and Volokhonsky (Novels, Tales, Journeys: The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin, 2016, etc.) select stories—happily, one for each week of the year—that express that devotion to realism, even if sometimes broadly satirically. The first piece, from 1883, depicts the bursting-at-the-seams pride of a young man whose name has appeared in the newspaper, even if it’s not for reasons to be proud of: It seems that he was drunk and “slipped and fell under the horse of the cabby Ivan Drotov,” then was clonked on the head by the axle. He can’t wait to tell the neighbors. Chekhov notes that he’s a “collegiate registrar,” which, Pevear and Volokhonsky helpfully gloss, is at the bottom rung of the czarist civil service. In another story, “Fat and Skinny,” a difference in rank takes on great importance: Old friends meet. One, it turns out, is a “collegiate assessor,” a rung up the ladder, and forced to supplement his meager income by making wooden cigarette cases. “We manage somehow,” he sighs, while his portly friend allows that he’s “already a privy councillor,” third from the top and requiring the use of the term of address “Your Excellency.” Encounters between young and old, rich and poor, country and city people mark these stories, though perhaps the best of them is an odd, longish yarn called “Kashtanka,” about a young dog, “half dachshund and half mutt,” whose master, “drunk as a fish,” loses her, whereupon the dog undergoes a series of adventures worthy of Pinocchio. It’s a marvel of imagination.

A welcome gathering of work, some not often anthologized, by an unrivaled master of the short story form.

Pub Date: April 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52081-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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