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THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1996

Wideman's smart introduction to this annual series challenges the standard criteria for inclusion, and justifies his other departures from convention—he selects 24 stories, not 20, and he knowingly reprints a selection ("In Roseau") from Jamaica Kincaid's recently published novel, The Autobiography of My Mother. All of which leads to a remarkably catholic collection, one that seldom sounds a repetitive note, or suggests one typical style for the times. Multicultural themes prevail, with differing consequences: Lan Chang's "The Eve of the Spirit Festival" chronicles the uneasy assimilation of an Asian widower and his two daughters in New York; first-timer Akhil Sharma's "If You Sing Like That for Me" splendidly evokes a young woman's fears as a wife in Delhi, India; Mary Gordon's "Intertextuality," despite its pretentious title, expertly recalls her Irish immigrant grandmother; and Peter Ho Davies's "The Silver Screen" is a Keystone Kops version of communist revolutionaries in postwar Malaysia, a comedy undermined by the radicals' brutal violence. Dan Chaon's troubling "Fitting Ends" focuses on the narrator's haunted recollections of his juvenile delinquent brother. William Henry Lewis's powerful "Shades" announces a welcome new voice in African-American fiction. The ubiquitous Melanie Rae Thon contributes another of her gritty tales, this of a teenaged prostitute and her best friend, a transvestite prostitute. And Joyce Carol Oates assumes the voice of a girl growing up in strange, seedy circumstances. Anna Keesey ("Bright Water") convincingly takes on the epistolary style of a 19th-century businessman writing to his son, who leads a millenarian Christian cult. Stylistically, the volume stretches from Stephen Dixon's stream-of-consciousness narrative in "Sleep" to William Lychak's delightfully fabulistic tale about an odd woman from the sea. Stories by Robert Olen Butler and Susan Perabe have already appeared in Best Stories from the South, and Junot D¡az's "Ysrael" is in his much-noted debut collection, Drown (p. 916). A perfect place to sample the wide range of current fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 1996

ISBN: 0-395-75291-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1996

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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