Middling collection of new stories, some by very old hands.
First, the quibbles: as with so many anthologies, the editor serves up a vague, vaguely celebratory introduction that is short on criteria and long on puffery: “I sought stylistic and formal variety in the stories not to be fair, but because there seem to be endless ways, in fiction, to make the world come alive, to reckon with our time, to fearlessly reveal what’s in front of us.” Well, as the kids say, duh. And what of the fearful revelation? There’s no room here for Stephen King, who’s a sight more interesting to read, most days, than Rivka Galchen or Donald Antrim but who, not teaching in an MFA program somewhere, would seem not to qualify. Robert Coover we have, and George Saunders, whose work holds up sturdily but who is now a flavor of the month all the same; and is Zadie Smith an American writer by virtue of living part-time in Manhattan? Marcus doesn’t do nearly enough to lay out the rules of the road. All that said, there are some excellent pieces in here. Saunders’ contribution is a bleak coming-home story in which a returned veteran of the Asian wars lands stateside in what might as well be a country song, with Ma’s new boyfriend insistently asking, “What’s your worst thing you ever did over there?” The most completely realized and honest piece in the book, it drips with barely potent rage: “I stomped the carpet fire out and went over to Gleason Street, where Joy and the babies were living with Asshole.” No mewling writing-instructor–in–existential-crisis piece can weather such competition. Coover’s story is similarly very good, inventive in its way of relating how time unfolds to a beer-clouded mind and packing a considerable amount of tragedy into just a few pages. The most entertaining, least mannered story comes from Kelly Link, who turns in a sci-fi tinged, note-perfect yarn of future discontent that would make Rod Serling smile.
For students of the short story form, a handy gathering, though it’s in need of more interpretation.