An excellent new edition of this popular anthology.
As might be expected from the author of several carefully researched novels (Prodigal Summer, 2000, etc.), guest editor Kingsolver suggests a predilection for stories with extraordinary content. In a lively introduction, she lays out three criteria for her selections: “They’ve told me something remarkable, they are beautifully executed, and they are nested in truth.” And most of the stories here do have “something remarkable” to tell. Rather than depicting the subtleties of “everyday American life,” these tales usually opt for more exotic subjects. Ha Jin’s “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town” depicts what it’s like to work at an American fast food restaurant in China, while Peter Ho Davies’s “Think of England” takes place in and around a Welsh countryside pub on the night after the D-day landing. Katherine Shonk’s “My Mother’s Garden” presents life near Chernobyl’s contaminated zone, while Andrea Barrett’s “Servants of the Map” centers on a British surveyor in the Himalayas during the 1860s. The stories not set in far-flung locations are often about unusual perspectives, like that of the morbidly obese man in Claire Davis’s “Labors of the Heart” or of the character in Rick Bass’s ultra-factual “The Fireman.” Such tales can leave one with the feeling of having read nonfiction as much as fiction. Kingsolver allows quotidian subject matter only if it’s in the hands of an Alice Munro (“Post and Beam”) or a John Updike (“Personal Archeology”). Younger writers—a generous number are here—have to earn their way by writing about Hong Kong, Madagascar, or Buffalo in the1930s. Also of interest is a posthumously published story by the Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West (1907–98).
A vibrant, diverse collection.