PEN AMERICA BEST DEBUT SHORT STORIES 2017

A welcome addition to the run of established short story annuals, promising good work to come.

Worthy showcase of winning short fiction by recipients of a newly established PEN prize.

The Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize honors work by emerging writers published in North America, and the range of publications represented here is refreshingly broad: it includes not just the usual suspects (Boston Review, Southwest Review), but also journals that are themselves emerging into broader view (Epiphany, Hyphen). The judges' choices are uniformly solid; the stories are widely situated but with some points in common. Many feature family members in dramatic situations. In Ruth Serven’s very short story “A Message,” a mysterious father is revealed to have households scattered across the Balkans: “You say that someday you’ll find each of your siblings. Your father will buy a house and you’ll all live together. Like Full House.” The pop-culture references aren’t confined to 1980s nostalgia; in Emily Chammah’s lovely “Tell Me, Please,” two Jordanian sisters reveal only so much of themselves on their Facebook pages, disguising the fact that they’re “from the Beni Hasan tribe, that we live in Mafrag, that we attend Al al-Bayt University.” When their father discovers that one of the girls is reading Animal Farm, in which, as one of the sisters puts it, pigs take over a farm, he moans, “My God, what is happening in my home?” Here a Russian émigrée of indeterminate age sees a golden hawk that, she is impatiently told, does not exist; there a Korean couple drink like fish, “as if we girls are invisible,” as one daughter puts it, just one moment of the familial minefield the children have to traverse. Perhaps the best single moment, from a story by writer Grace Oluseyi, involves two Nigerians, tentatively dating, who bond over sushi, the woman saying to the man, “I was thinking about my grandmother, back home. And how she would be horrified that we would pay to eat raw fish.”

A welcome addition to the run of established short story annuals, promising good work to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-936787-68-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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