This latest collection of stories from US and Canadian writing programs is vibrant and diverse, well up to the high standard set by its predecessors.
Novelist Miller (Lost in the Forest, 2005, etc.) has assembled 15 stories, all roughly contemporary, except “The Temperate Family,” by Caimeen Garrett, a remarkable account of an anguished father’s search for his kidnapped son in 1876. As before, the immigrant experience is well-represented: Russians in Pittsburgh (Ellen Litman’s “About Kamyshinskiy”), Indians in Houston (Keya Mitra’s “Pompeii Recreated”) and a Pakistani in limbo (Fatima Rashid’s “Syra”). The standout in this group is “A Correct Life,” Viet Thanh Nguyen’s story about Liem, an 18-year-old Vietnamese who flees Saigon in 1975 and is taken in by a gay couple in San Francisco—culture shock has seldom been so perceptively rendered. American families experience shocks of their own. Blue-collar father and college-dropout son circle each other grimly after the old man’s divorce (“Karaoke Night,” by Dan Pope); sparks fly when alcoholic, four-times-married Frederick the Third shows up for his grandfather’s funeral and finds forgiveness in short supply (“The Freddies,” by M.O. Walsh). Another grandfather, dying in Puerto Rico, gets no respect from his son or grandson, who are off partying elsewhere in the Caribbean; for sheer exuberance, nothing beats this freewheeling story by Kevin A. González (“Wake”). Equally good, in a quieter way, is Anne de Marcken’s “Ashes”; here, a widow ponders the gap between image and reality as she scatters her husband’s ashes. Sometimes characters are dwarfed by a theme (exurban development obliterating American folklore, in Lydia Peelle’s “Shadow on a Weary Land”); sometimes a character sketch serves for a story, whether it’s a control freak masquerading as a good neighbor (Alice J. Marshall’s “By Any Other Name”) or a black postgraduate struggling with a drug habit (T. Geronimo Johnson’s “Winter Never Quits”); yet there is fine observation even in these lesser offerings.
There is nothing tentative in this collection—these are fully formed talents.