Varied and risky—with the fingerprint of Oates’s fetish for the macabre.

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BEST NEW AMERICAN VOICES 2003

Ultraprolific Oates (I’ll Take You There, p. 985) perhaps doesn’t have enough to do; this time out, she leans toward the experimental with 15 tales selected from writing programs’ brightest and best.

Some of the edges are rough, but the breadth of approach is what’s most encouraging here. The protagonist of Esi Edugyan’s “The Woman Who Tasted of Rose Oil” is a ghost; Eastern philosophy and medicine trigger healing in Westerners in Susan Austin’s “At Celilo”; the reinvention of war stories in the wake of computer games and the Gulf War continues in Otis Haschmeyer’s choppy but nonetheless pleasing “The Storekeeper”; the best first sentence prize goes to Dylan Tai Nguyen for “At first glance she mistook his handwriting for barbed wire,” in “Peace,” a tale about a Communist but peaceful Vietnam. Meanwhile, Barry Matthews’s “Everything Must Go” seems pulled straight from the headlines when improperly disposed-of corpses are discovered at an undertaker’s a few hundred yards from the protagonist’s home; violence intrudes upon, and shapes, theories on love and family in Jenn McKee’s “Under the Influence”; Hal Horton’s “The Year Draws in the Day” is a survey of love and death via the gay culture; Brad Vice’s “Chickensnake” is a version of an oft-told tale in which a snake crawls up a 20-foot post to feed on birds, only to be shot down by the protagonist’s father (he was “only a snake doing what snakes do,” the boy laments); the most conventional story is probably Cheryl Strayed’s “Good,” in which two people helping to care for loved ones at a home for the infirm turn guiltily to one another for needed affection. These tales may be a better mirror of Oates’s own huge body of work than a survey of the best of anything. As Oates herself says, “The emerging writers . . . are a testament to the ongoing vitality, imagination, and richness of that culture.”

Varied and risky—with the fingerprint of Oates’s fetish for the macabre.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-600716-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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