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.
In the title story of J. Robert Lennon’s new collection of short fiction—a book 15 years in the making—a man stumbles, surreally, into a kind of dream job on a tropical island, only to sense that something’s not quite right.
Three novels exploring the confines of art and artistry make great picks for reading groups this month.
Elephant Beach used to sparkle. Before the boardwalks rotted and the hotels and mansions along the bay boarded up their windows, there were ballrooms, parties, dancing. Now, the town smells of cigarettes. The streets are filled with drugs. Haunting screams accompany moonlight as traumatized veterans relive pieces of Vietnam in their sleep.
Spoiled Brats is ridiculous in the very best way. It’s a short story collection that avoids the usual pitfalls because the stories work well together and don’t lose steam as they go along. A common theme (spoiled rich kids, mostly) keeps these stories cohesive, and author Simon Rich holds our interest with a unifying style—each chapter is very funny, and they’re all based on a different outlandish premise.
Are you a sucker for a story that begins with “once upon a time”? This fall, two accomplished short-story writers are lending a kind of dark beauty to the season with their enthralling collections of modernized fairy tales.
Southern writer Tony Earley’s excellently written and highly readable Mr. Tall consists of six stories and a short novella. The characters are a mix of country folks and city people, except for the novella, which contains a mix of real people and mythical characters. Mostly, the stories are about how men and women meet and how they live out their lives together.
“We all forget things,” says a character in one of the four engaging novellas Mary Gordon collects in The Liar’s Wife. “We must.” Yet despite this sage observation, it is really the act of remembering past associations that serves as a common thread in this beautifully-rendered book. Gordon writes about young, intelligent women and men in the throes of self-discovery at formative junctures in their lives.
Katherine Hall Page’s award-winning Faith Fairchild mysteries have delighted readers since 1991, when she released her debut, The Body in the Belfry, and introduced the world to her charming caterer and sleuth. Small Plates, Page’s first collection of short stories, is filled with wit and intricately spun mysteries, along with decadent descriptions of all things culinary. While Faith makes plenty of appearances in stories such as “The Body in the Dunes,” new characters shine just as brightly in “The Would-Be Widower” and “Hiding Places.” Cozy mystery lovers are sure to find a tale to sate their appetite here.
Chestnut Street in Dublin, Ireland, is shaped like a horseshoe, with a “big bit of grass in the middle beside some chestnut trees,” and “thirty small houses in a semicircle.” These houses are inhabited by scores of fascinating human beings, however ordinary, who figure in these stories by Maeve Binchy, written between novels. Now, after her death in 2012 at 72, they are finally being published.