Gripping anthology of the unexpected from a cabal of A-list authors—but don’t look for their names in the table of contents.
Inspired by a demolition-derby driver who always won because he drove like he had nothing to lose, editor Parent (Turning Stones, 1996, etc.) cajoled a batch of star scribblers, from Michael Connelly and Alice Sebold to Sebastian Junger and Rosie O’Donnell, to contribute short stories anonymously, freeing them from the sometimes weighty expectations their names can bring. The results run the gamut from stunningly good to just plain okay to embarrassing. Of the middle category are such page-fillers as “An Eye for an Eye,” a portrait of a strained marriage that’s as finely crafted as it is bloodless and rote. “A Country Like No Other” is something quite different. It follows a pair of young American journalists through the ragged edges of a West African conflict packed full of everyday horror and the banality of evil. The story’s world-weariness somehow feels fresh, as though the naïve writer and his jaundiced, cynical buddy weren’t a trope as old as the hills. Another standout is “Wonderland,” which seems to have Alice Sebold’s name all over it. In this sharp shock of a piece, a shallow New York fashion magazine editor recollects her college affair with a Puerto Rican janitor and the tragedy that brought her and the man’s young daughter together. Simultaneously wistful, hateful, funny, honest and utterly self-serving, it’s a damning portrait of class prejudice that any writer would be smart to want to claim as her own.
That rarest and most refreshing sort of short story anthology: an eye-opener.