The third in this catchall series is weighted toward fiction and has an international flavor.
Included are two cartoons and four nonfiction pieces: David Mamet’s notes on language, “Secret Names,” suggestive but in need of shaping; Michael Hall’s “Running For His Life,” a stirring tribute to an ethnic cleansing survivor from Burundi, now an ace runner/coach in Texas; Michael Paterniti’s workmanlike account of an Iranian living in a Paris airport for 15 years (“The Fifteen-Year Layover”); and Transmissions From Camp Trans, Michelle Tea’s long examination of prejudice against transsexuals among feminists that gets bogged down in its convoluted sexual politics. The fiction has more of a sheen, including three very strong stories with foreign settings. “Half of a Yellow Sun,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a heartbreaking evocation of the 1960s rise and fall of Biafra; Daniel Alarcón’s “City of Clowns” provides a memorable portrait of turbulent family life in Lima, Peru; and Gina Ochsner’s “Hidden Lives of Lakes” is a sweet fantasy about the allure of the afterlife for some ordinary Russians. Looking for something quintessentially American? Try the always-dependable Christopher Buckley’s “We Have a Pope!” (a juicy account of a p.r. campaign for an American pope), or Lance Olsen’s “Sixteen Jackies”: far away from the tabloid versions of Jackie Kennedy, the one true Jackie, all 246 pounds of her, is kicking back in her Caribbean hideaway. Some editorial judgments are puzzling. Why include Thom Jones’s ho-hum study of craziness (“Night Train”) when you already have the brilliant and terrifying portrayal of a father’s madness infecting his son (Ben Ehrenreich’s “What You Eat”)? And we don’t need both John Haskell’s “Good World” and Tom Kealey’s “Bones,” experimental offerings with similar structures. With family life, however, the range is impressive, from tight-knit Orthodox Jews (Julie Orringer’s “The Smoothest Way is Full Of Stones”) to the failed family that sells its babies (“The Promise of Something,” by Cheryl Printup).
A mixed bunch, a little below last year’s standard. (Not seen: pieces by Jon Gertner, Paula Peterson, and David Sedaris.)