Kirkus Reviews QR Code
20 UNDER 40 by Deborah Treisman

20 UNDER 40

By Deborah Treisman

Pub Date: Dec. 14th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-53287-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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.