It takes a writer of immense confidence and talent to fashion beautiful stories that chronicle ordinary people coping with devastating challenges. Adam Johnson demonstrated this talent in his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, which received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He now does the same in Fortune Smiles, a collection of six powerful short stories in which characters are forced to contend with some of life’s biggest tragedies.
Shirley Jackson, who died 50 years ago this month at the much too early age of 48, left behind a solid literary opus anchored in two indelible works: the iconic short story “The Lottery” and the classy ghost story novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Let Me Tell You collects 29 stories, including 21 that have never before been published, as well as many essays and humor pieces.
Rebecca Makkai’ s novels—The Borrower and The Hundred Year House—have established her as one of the most talented literary voices today. Her short fiction has been selected for The Best American Short Stories four years in a row. Now the acclaimed writer returns with Music for Wartime, an anticipated collection of short stories, several of which were inspired by the lives of her paternal grandparents.
Steven Millhauser is our patron saint of elsewhere. He is the bard of an Arcadia we long for (but also dread), a sorcerer who can materialize phantoms in our backyards, where they’ve been standing all along, just there, behind the bushes.
A dose of dark humor, a captivating historical novel and the 2014 National Book Award winner for fiction make great selections for reading groups this month.
Kelly Link tends to inspire a range of comparisons to other authors—usually, some blend of Angela Carter and Haruki Murakami—but, in fact, nobody writes stories like hers. Link’s fantastical worlds feel utterly real, partly because they’re intensely matter-of-fact. Her characters are sassy, moody and cool, and they never, ever make any big deal out of the fact that there are monsters, aliens, vampires or ghosts hanging around, or that they might stumble into a pocket universe or some alternate dimension. Mostly they’re concerned with cute guys and flirting and drinks, plus occasionally needing to save the world.
This radiant collection of short stories features a set of flawed yet sympathetic women in a whole mess of compromising positions.
Edith Pearlman has been publishing award-winning stories since the late 1970s, but became more widely known in 2012, when her story collection Binocular Vision won both the PEN/Malamud and National Book Critics Circle awards and was a finalist for numerous others. Her new collection, Honeydew, gathers tales from the last 15 years, each one a closely observed look at the ordinary graces and sorrows of everyday life.
In her first collection of stories, Birds of a Lesser Paradise (2012), Megan Mayhew Bergman focused on the relationships between humans and animals. In her new collection, Almost Famous Women, Bergman focuses on the lives of real women who have been marginalized (or mythologized) in history. They include Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins at odds in life but not in body; Marion “Joe” Carstairs, a womanizing power boat racer; Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont; and many other women whose stories are as captivating as they are obscure.
I have to admit I was a bit nonplussed when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in 2013. Not because she didn’t deserve it. On the contrary, no writer is more worthy of this crowning literary honor. No, my dismay stemmed from the fact that the secret had gotten out: For years, we Munro fans had fooled ourselves into thinking we were part of some exclusive society with special appreciation for an unsung master. Crazy, of course, since Munro had been reaching tens of thousands of readers for decades with her stories in The New Yorker. But such is the unvarnished assuredness of Munro’s prose, the knowing intimacy of her plots—it is easy to believe she is writing for you alone.