A compendium of The Paris Review’s short story hits, curated with the ambitious, aspiring writer in mind.
This collection showcases a handful of the literary innovations the journal has championed since its founding in 1953: There are gnomic, comic experiments by Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges and Lydia Davis, and minimalist works by Mary Robison and Raymond Carver. But the magazine’s heart is in domestic realism about the upper-middle class, and a few of the stories collected here are classics of the form. In “Bangkok,” James Salter pits an estranged couple against each other, calibrating the dialogue to show how eagerly one wants to wound the other. Evan S. Connell’s “The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge” inhabits the mind of a WASP aristocrat who’s both charming and blinkered to the wider world. And Ethan Canin’s “The Palace Thief” is a stellar exploration of morality and noblesse oblige, told through a prep school headmaster’s remembrance of a mendacious student. Each story is preceded with a brief appreciation by a well-known admirer—Sam Lipsyte introduces Robison, Dave Eggers introduces Salter, and so on. The introducers were clearly instructed to avoid high-flown encomiums and instead discuss the specifics of why each story is effective, so the book is rich with shoptalk. And though some intros ought to have spoiler alerts, most are engaging in their own right—Jeffrey Eugenides’ discussion of Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” captures that story’s heartbreak and serves as an essay on the virtues of the form itself. As if to comfort readers who came to the book striving for literary fame, the collection closes with Dallas Wiebe’s “Night Flight to Stockholm,” a comic riff on literally giving an arm and a leg to score a Nobel Prize in literature—or just publication in The Paris Review.
A smart showcase of a half-century’s worth of pathways in fiction.