THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1994

Despite some real snoozers, a solid, generally somber sampling of today's established short story writers. This annual collection (edited by former Ticknor & Fields editor Kenison) is what IBM once was in corporate America: steady, reliable, an organ of the establishment (i.e., the New Yorker), with few surprises for conservative investors—and never mind Apple (i.e., the Pushcart Prize Annual) racing off with a newer, better, funkier product line. Credit Tobias Wolff (In Pharaoh's Army, p. 1113) with letting in a few rays of innovation, although much of the book remains heavy slogging. The collection is weighted with depictions of family dynamics during times of death and separation, including Sherman Alexie's bleak tale of a poor Native American traveling to retrieve his father's body (``This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona''), Alice Elliott Dark's haunting story of a 33-year-old man moving back in with his suburban parents in order to die quietly from AIDS (``In the Gloaming''), David Gates's mind- numbingly boring presentation of a stroke victim's world view (``The Mail Lady''), and Christopher Tilghman's overwrought, turgid depiction of a couple's trauma watching their infant son die of cystic fibrosis (``Things Left Undone''). Humor is at a minimum here, with the exception of Stuart Dybek's brief meditation on not having sex in ``We Didn't'' and Jim Shepard's laugh-out-loud tale of a bumbling professional baseball player in the early '50s, ``Batting Against Castro.'' The few gems offer striking voices, namely those of the rambling, drug-addled narrator who tries to come to terms with his father's long-ago death in Barry Hannah's ``Nicodemus Bluff,'' of a brutally honest, fatalistic AIDS doctor who visits his sister at a mental hospital in Thom Jones's ``Cold Snap,'' and of a dam keeper, the narrator of Tony Earley's ``The Prophet From Jupiter,'' who jumbles history with raw, immediate emotions as he tells of his wife being impregnated by another man. Mostly safe, but with enough danger and excitement to make it worthwhile.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-68103-0

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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