Each one of these stories could establish itself as some reader’s favorite.


Another stellar selection from an anthology that has sustained high standards for 35 years.

Every year’s annual edition reflects the state of the genre as seen from the eyes of its guest editor. As this year’s editor, Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing, 2011, etc.) brings an outsider’s perspective to the American short story, one not beholden to creative writing workshops and MFA programs. Born and raised in Australia, she’s a journalist who became an acclaimed novelist and who doesn’t write stories. But she read a whole lot of them last year, using the criterion that “a great piece of writing is the one you feel on your skin. It has to do something: Make the heart beat harder or the hairs stand up. Provoke laughter or tears.” She plainly responds to strong narrative voices, characters and momentum, preferring plots to postmodern literary parlor tricks (though inclusions from Steven Millhauser, Sam Lipsyte and a wonderful multiple-choice story by Richard Powers suggest that she is no kneejerk traditionalist). This anthology is lighter on discovery than some years, with more than a third of the 20 stories first published in the New Yorker (and another actually an excerpt from Jennifer Egan’s prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad novel), but the inclusion of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Housewifely Arts” whets the appetite for her debut story collection next spring. And Tom Bissell’s explanation of how “A Bridge Under Water,” about a honeymoon in Rome that shows a marriage already in peril, was rejected 15 times before the publication that resulted in this year’s anthologizing should provide hope to persevering writers everywhere. Many of these stories offer rite-of-passage (or at least coming-of-age) discoveries, as the reader recognizes implications that a youthful protagonist has yet to glean. Compounding the narrative intrigue is Ricardo Nuila’s “Dog Bites,” with a narrator subjected to multiple diagnoses (including Asperger’s) by his doctor father, challenging the reader to determine whether the perspective of the son or the father is more significantly skewed.

Each one of these stories could establish itself as some reader’s favorite.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-24216-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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