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

PEN AMERICA BEST DEBUT SHORT STORIES 2017

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 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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