A fine celebration of the many guises a short story can take while still doing its essential work.

THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2019

Latest installment of the long-running (since 1915, in fact) story anthology.

Helmed by a different editor each year (in 2018, it was Roxane Gay, and in 2017, Meg Wolitzer), the series now falls to fiction/memoir writer Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See, 2014, etc.) along with series editor Pitlor. A highlight is the opener, an assured work of post-apocalyptic fiction by young writer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah that’s full of surprises for something in such a convention-governed genre: The apocalypse in question is rather vaguely environmental, and it makes Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go seem light and cheerful by contrast: “Jimmy was a shoelooker who cooked his head in a food zapper,” writes Adjei-Brenyah, each word carrying meaning in the mind of the 15-year-old narrator, who’s pretty clearly doomed. In Kathleen Alcott’s “Natural Light,” which follows, a young woman discovers a photograph of her mother in a “museum crowded with tourists.” Just what her mother is doing is something for the reader to wonder at, even as Alcott calmly goes on to reveal the fact that the mother is five years dead and the narrator lonely in the wake of a collapsed marriage, suggesting along the way that no one can ever really know another’s struggles; as the narrator’s father says of a secret enshrined in the image, “She never told you about that time in her life, and I believed that was her choice and her right.” In Nicole Krauss’ “Seeing Ershadi,” an Iranian movie actor means very different things to different dreamers, while Maria Reva’s lyrical “Letter of Apology” is a flawless distillation of life under totalitarianism that packs all the punch of a Kundera novel in the space of just a dozen-odd pages. If the collection has a theme, it might be mutual incomprehension, a theme ably worked by Weike Wang in her standout closing story, “Omakase,” centering on “one out of a billion or so Asian girl–white guy couples walking around on this earth.”

A fine celebration of the many guises a short story can take while still doing its essential work.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-48424-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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