Though certainly not the last word on American short fiction, a collection of uncommonly high value.

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100 YEARS OF THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES

An anthology of an anthology, packed with some of the best short fiction ever committed to print.

Aficionados of the “Getting Things Done” system of time management will appreciate that Best American Short Stories founding editor Edward J. O’Brien was “almost pathologically organized,” useful for dealing with the flood of stories he received on conceiving the annual prize volume. That was back when short stories, as the editors note, “were the preferred entertainment in the United States,” not the currency of MFA workshops and suburban book clubs. Tastes change: there’s a world of difference between Ring Lardner and Jamaica Kincaid, and if the two might have enjoyed a conversation, the editors might have commented a touch more about how the short story genre has evolved in the century since O’Brien got to work. For the moment, it’s worth marveling at how Edna Ferber’s “The Gay Old Dog” reflects a world gone by in its very title, an age of “loop-hounds,” kerchiefs, and waistcoats; one wonders whether George Saunders’ postmodernly busy “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” will seem similarly fusty a century from now, whether Robert Stone’s evocations of the Vietnam War will have any meaning then. There are classic and even some canonical pieces in the book and plenty of big names from Hemingway and Cheever to Munro and Oates, and if there are no surprises here—after all, they’re known prizewinners, with all the baggage good and ill that prizes carry—an aspiring writer could do worse than have this as a handbook. Some standouts: Sherman Alexie’s sharply observed portrait of Skid Row (“Rose of Sharon, Junior, and I carried our $20 bill and our five dollars in loose change over to the 7-Eleven and bought three bottles of imagination”); Akhil Sharma’s portrait of Indian immigrant life, “If You Sing Like That for Me”; and Moore’s highly entertaining if refractive introduction.

Though certainly not the last word on American short fiction, a collection of uncommonly high value.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-547-48585-0

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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