AMERICAN SHORT STORY MASTERPIECES

It's hard not to be cynical about an anthology of proclaimed "masterpieces" that includes, without apology, a story by one of its editors; and although some may consider Carver a contemporary master, remarkably few other indisputable gems are brought together here—Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Philip Roth's "Tire Conversion of the Jews" and Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel." On the other hand, there are an overwhelming number of mediocre tales punctuating the 36 chosen by Carver and Scribner's editor Tom Jenks; even masterly writers such as Mark Helprin, Grace Paley, Leonard Michaels, and James Alan McPherson arc represented by some of their weakest work; and just plain awful stories come from Richard Brautigan and Vance Bourjaily ("1/3, 1/3, 1/3" and "The Amish Farmer"). The notion of a contemporary masterpiece, of course, is open lo question, but what seems more clear is that the editors here seem to feel they know what's hot in the current marketplace. The many avatars of recent realist and minimalist fiction (Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, Joy Williams, Tobias Wolff, Ann Beattie, Jayne Anne Phillips) join in full numbing force in these pages. Less generous explanations would seem to account for selections by John Gardner and Arthur Miller—the first having been Carver's teacher, and Miller's "The Misfits" coming from a volume reissued by Jenks at Scribners. In his alarmingly inarticulate introduction, Carver contends that he considers this a companion to Warren and Erskine's Short Story Masterpieces (1954). Inclusion in that earlier anthology ostensibly explains the absence now of John Cheever, Peter Taylor, and Eudora Welty, none of whose preeminence, it may be said, is threatened by this unnecessary slight. But however that may be, one hardly finds here yet the anthology deserving the mantel of its—and of that earlier—august title.

Pub Date: April 3, 1987

ISBN: 0440204232

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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