THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2015

Confrontational and at times confounding, these are stories to get lost in, then gratefully chart a path homeward.

These stories thrive on discomfort, so much so that each small kindness registers as a minor miracle.

Editor Boyle favors dark tales, but they often have strange, bright moments. In Kevin Canty's "Happy Endings," a widower's worldview expands after he finds comfort in a massage parlor. "Unsafe at Any Speed" by Laura Lee Smith offers a cowed husband, father, and employee a one-day respite from ass-kissing via a highly spontaneous crime spree. There's a jittery veteran untethered from space and time ("The Fugue" by Arna Bontemps Hemenway) and one calmly using his prosthesis to shut down a dinner party ("The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” by Denis Johnson). Victor Lodato's "Jack, July" spends a hot, haunting day with a young man in need of a meth fix. As is common with this series, the authors' notes at the end include insight from each about the inspiration and process behind his or her chosen works. Jess Walter describes "Mr. Voice," the final story and a strikingly upbeat one, as all following from a perfect first line. Its 1970s setting and protagonist—a teen girl finding stability with her unusual stepfather—are a pleasing counterpoint to the downbeat and downtrodden who sometimes overwhelm this volume. Stories of children lost, then found, ("Sh'khol" by Colum McCann and "Thunderstruck" by Elizabeth McCracken) seem like they would resolve happily, but be not fooled. In the first, joy and relief immediately turn to suspicion and then a sense of greater loss; the second finds a family so fractured by what happened it's unclear whether they'll heal in its wake. Five of the 20 stories chosen first appeared in The New Yorker, and the others share their preference for occasional inscrutability. Many also test the boundaries of "short," nearly novellas in terms of length and scope.

Confrontational and at times confounding, these are stories to get lost in, then gratefully chart a path homeward.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-547-93940-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 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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