Fiction writers are often told by agents, editors, and even fellow writers that contemporary readers are not interested in short story collections, and that if one intends to write stories and assemble them into a book, they must be linked and resemble a novel. What is lost in this stampede towards the novel-in-stories is breadth. The great short story writers demonstrate range—exploring themes through an array of characters from a multitude of backgrounds, ethnicities, social classes, and education levels without having to grasp the handrails of a unifying narrative throughline.
Amina Gautier is fast becoming one of those great short story writers. Her first collection about troubled teens, entitled At-Risk, won the Flannery O’Connor Award. Now We Will Be Happy, a collection about the lives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. And now, Gautier returns with The Loss of All Lost Things, the winner of the Elixir Press Fiction Award. The most impressive aspect about the collection is not its theme, or the deftness with which it’s handled—it’s Gautier’s range.
Read the rest at The Rumpus.
The title of Ryan W. Bradley’s eighth book, Nothing but the Dead and Dying, pulls no punches. Set in Alaska, these two-dozen stories are about a dead and dying part of the world, thanks to climate change, and the dead and dying white working class men that have become a media talking point in this year’s election. Bradley’s characters work the pipelines, drive the oil tankers, and dig giant trenches in mud and ice. They work long hours, separated from their wives and children. They are dying, from overwork, from cancer, from a lack of opportunities. They are melting, like Alaska’s glaciers, so quickly that they barely have the language to describe their dissolution.
Read the rest at Heavy Feather Review.
One of the most exciting freedoms that literary fiction offers is the elbow room to blend or hop genres in a single work. David Mitchell comes to mind as an author who seamlessly integrates the historical, contemporary, and speculative. To genre-blend is a skill. The writer must win the trust of the reader several times over—for each genre attempted—and then one final time for the entirety of the work, which must cohere and address the author’s thematic concerns. In Cloud Atlas, for instance, Mitchell’s statement about the connectedness of human nature across epochs and geographies is first and foremost what we remember about the novel. The adventures in the nineteenth century and the post-apocalypse are instruments that amplify this overarching theme.
In The Tusk That Did The Damage, Tania James attempts a similar genre-blending high-wire act. Set in South India, the novel is at once a fable, a behind-the-scenes look into the world of elephant poaching, and a love triangle between Western do-gooders abroad.
Read the rest of the review at Kenyon Review Online.
In Valeria Luiselli’s first novel Faces In The Crowd, a promiscuous, melancholy mother loses herself so thoroughly while translating the work of a Mexican poet named Gilberto Owen that her narration slowly becomes that of the equally promiscuous, swashbuckling poet. In Luiselli’s funny new picaresque The Story of My Teeth, Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez picks up where Owen left off. He too is a charismatic raconteur whose first-person narration simultaneously charms and cuckolds. Highway not-so-humbly describes himself as “the best auctioneer in the world.”
Read the rest of the review at [PANK] Magazine.
France’s literary bad boy Michel Houellebecq is stirring controversy again. If you feel that literature has become too genteel, too much like Hollywood in its pursuit of blockbusters that eliminate all local flavor from prose, then you’ll be thirsty for Houellebecq’s very funny and provocative new novel Submission. The book has drawn mostly negative attention from the European media for its portrayal of a Muslim takeover of secular France in the near future. The book is critical both of the modern manifestation of Islam (especially its treatment of women) and of the political, theological, and cultural decline of Europe.
François, Houellebecq’s narrator, is the embodiment of France’s decline.
Read the rest of the review at The Rumpus.