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

READ REVIEW

THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2011

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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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