Like the magazine, the collection doesn’t distinguish between short stories and novel excerpts, but each piece can be...


20 UNDER 40

Though many lament the decline of short fiction (and magazines that publish it), we seem to have entered a golden age of the short-story anthology, if the proliferation of annual and themed collections is any indication.

The latest addition to the short-fiction bookshelf proceeds from the provocative premise of the New Yorker’s annual summer fiction issue of June 2010—which found the future of American fiction in the hands of its 20 most promising practitioners younger than 40. Inevitably, the selection invited controversy, as did the age limit. Writes fiction editor Treisman, “We will inevitably look back, in a decade or so, and see that we missed a writer—or even several. But for now, for us, these twenty women and men dazzlingly represent the multiple strands of inventiveness and creativity at play in the best fiction being written today.” They also represent a departure from what was long considered the prototypical “New Yorker story,” one that pondered contemporary, upper-middle-class, Caucasian ennui. The inclusions are international in scope (and authorship, though all have some ties to North America), occasionally historical, and feature far more narrative propulsion than navel gazing. Joining those who have already experienced critical success and some measure of commercial breakthrough—Joshua Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss (married to J.S. Foer, the anthology's power couple), ZZ Packer and Gary Shteyngart among them—are writers on the verge of a greater readership, the discoveries that highlight such collections. The youngest, 24-year-old Téa Obreht, has already appeared in two of the year’s “best of” anthologies and will publish her debut novel in 2011. The Ethiopian Dinaw Mengestu contributes a vivid story about the power of storytelling, and Yiyun Li shows tonal command in her narrative of a reticent Chinese immigrant who sees herself as “who she was in other people’s eyes,” while inventing stories to shape that perception.

Like the magazine, the collection doesn’t distinguish between short stories and novel excerpts, but each piece can be savored as a self-contained whole.

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-53287-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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