As ever, a welcome portrait of the state of the art in contemporary short fiction writing, a literature of resistance.



Politically charged, diverse installment of the long-running literary annual.

Writes general editor Pitlor, American fiction writers today work in an atmosphere of political decline, racism, corruption, and casual violence, and consequently they “are now faced with the significant challenge of producing work that will sustain a reader’s attention amid this larger narrative.” Adds volume editor Gay, who read 120 submissions to make this anthology, “I thought about this cultural moment and what it means to both write politically and read politically.” The stories included here are of a uniformly high quality, without a dud among them, though it has to be said that only some of them are overt in their political stance, even if many concern the lives of those who are essentially powerless in an American arena that has become truly Darwinian. On that note, the opening story concerns a young man who, living in a trailer on the edge of a Montana forest, must face two essential losses, one the disappearance of his father (“One member of the search committee, a homeless asshole there for the free lunch, pulled me aside and told me it was 'them aliens’ who took my father”), the other the death of the family dog via a mountain lion that, after all, is just doing its job. Maria Anderson’s "Cougar," from the Iowa Review, is a masterpiece of charged compression; there’s a lot happening in the space of just a few pages. Other standouts are Esmé Weijun Wang’s “What Terrible Thing It Was,” a delicate story of madness (“Even knowing that I am not alone would be its own strange balm”) that could just as easily appear in a horror anthology, and Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s “Control Negro,” whose double-edged title speaks volumes to the terrible price an African-American pays for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As ever, a welcome portrait of the state of the art in contemporary short fiction writing, a literature of resistance.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-58288-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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