Generalizations aside, the 29 stories here are excellent and frequently brilliant, with none of the workshopped feel of so...


The across-the-pond rejoinder to Best American Short Stories delivers another fine collection of continental conjuring.

To judge by this sparkling anthology, the eighth in the series, Europeans live in high places and are given to throwing themselves from them—or at least in front of buses. The protagonist of Danish writer Ida Jessen’s “Postcard to Annie,” for instance, lives in an attic room from which “she could see the red rooftops of Trøjborg, the woods, and the bay of Aarhus Bugt.” We should have a sense of foreboding: Scandinavian gloom and heights do not make a good combination, but the story resolves in vehicular mayhem instead, which just makes the protagonist hungry, if a touch world-weary. In Mikkel Bugge’s contribution from Norway, a “girl leaps from the fifth floor wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume,” while in Macedonian writer Snežana Mladenovska Angjelkov’s “Beba,” the jumper is less clearly defined: “Something fell from the building. I didn’t see exactly what it was.” What that “something” is lies at the heart of her pensive, economical tale. Other writers take those heights even higher: more than one turns to outer space, including Liechtenstein’s contribution to the proceedings, in which binational writer Jonathan Huston imagines a grumpy retired astronaut, very much in his dotage, recalling a lunar rock whose “color was alien, like a rainbow trapped in amber, graceful and fragile and bound to give the geologists on Earth wet dreams.” Wet dreams? Well, it being Europe and all, there’s some sex, mostly understated and angst-y—and on that aging continent there’s also a pronounced thematic preference for the experiences of the old, such as the narrator of Ticinese writer Giovanni Orelli’s “Death by Laughter,” who is “ninety nine point nine years old, a hundred let’s say,” with all the intimations of mortality attendant.

Generalizations aside, the 29 stories here are excellent and frequently brilliant, with none of the workshopped feel of so many of their American counterparts. Of interest to literary readers of English on both sides of the water.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62897-143-9

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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