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Literary Review

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short fiction

Universal appeal


Two volumes that engage with their combination of voices, some seasoned and some fresh, says K.KUNHIKRISHNAN

The Best American Short Stories, Ed. Alice Sebold; Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $ 14.00

These anthologies showcase the best of American short fiction with a variety of themes, styles, viewpoints, issues, tenor, genres and locales. The stories are remarkable for their pace and rhythm, and in bridging the gaps between individuals, their intricate lives and their relationship with society. Each writer uses a different craft and narrative technique. They present the dynamism of the modern short story and demonstrate the human ability to endure crises. They dramatise the emotional struggles of faith and fright, naiveté and skepticism. The settings of the stories straddles America to Russia, South Africa, Egypt, Zambia, Vietnam, China, Korea, Scotland, Iraq, and India.


The writers include celebrities like the Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, Ha Jin, Joseph Epstein, Paul Theroux and emerging writers like Yiyun Li, Manuel Munoz, Annie Prolux etc, and new ones like Elenor Henderson, Namwali Serpell, Greg Hrbek, and Viet Dinh. The New Yorker carried the maximum amount of 9/40 short fiction. Tin House, Epoch, Paris Review, Ploughshare, Harpers, Agni, Zoetrope: All Story, American Short Fiction are the usual names, and there are new ones like Callaloo, Black Warrior Review, Third Coast, Grain Magazine, Narrative Magazine etc. probably the first in recent times.

O. Henry Prize Stories, Ed Laura Furman, Anchor Books, $15

The 20 pieces in The Best American Short Stories 2009 are selected by Alice Sebold(From the short list of 120 prepared by the Series Editor Heidi Pitlor choosing from 4000 pieces carried in American and Canadian magazines. The stories must, according to Alice Sebold, must reach, confirm and reflect in both delight and sorrow. It does not matter whether this is done through history or humour. Joseph Epstein's 'Beyond the Pale' is an account of a Time Magazine writer and an old Yiddish literary icon and his young immigrant wife. The one-sided and futile approach of the wife in translating the great writer and the lack of interest of the young journalist is the theme, bringing out how writers become famous under a certain circumstance of reaching out to the readers and at other times, despite the greatness of the work, fading into anonymity. Daniyal Alarcon's ‘The Idiot President' is an engaging portrait of the travails and idiosyncrasies of a performing artist. Richard Power's ‘Modulation' values music as the only fundamental human pleasure with no survival value the power of music globally connects people from different continents. Karl Taro ‘Greenfield's New Trends' is based on his own experiences about an upcoming artist's promotion and through these deals with China's modernisation and the adoption of capitalism within the constraints of communism. The Chinese writer Yiyun Li's powerful ‘A Man Like Him' is about a teacher who finds a girl suing her father for leaving her mother. Namwali Serpell's Muzungu deftly explores the experiences in colonial system in a house in Zambia through the eyes of an eight year old native girl. A family dealing with the birth of a severely disabled child is the story of Sagittarius by Greg Hrbek. Another story on the disabled is Steve De Jarnatt's ‘Rubiaux Rising'. ‘Hurricane Anonymous' by Adam Johnson is about a father delivering packages along with his young son in the ghost town of New Orleans after Katrina.

The 90th anniversary edition of the O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, now in collaboration with PEN, features stalwarts and novices. The volume is edited by Laura Furman and the best three stories are selected by A S Byatt, Anthony Doerr and Tin O'brien. The volume includes the India-born writer Mohan Sikka's ‘Uncle Musto Takes a Mistress'. It is a family drama interspersed with comedy and seriousness. ‘Two of the Jury have selected Graham Joyce's ‘An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen' as the best. It blends the harsh realities of military life and fantasy, wherein ‘Sergeant Seamus Todd, who fought in the British Infantry, caught in the landmine, is visited by a jinn. The story combines realistic and surrealistic elements and the psychotic aspects of war. E .V Slate's ‘Purple Bamboo Park' is a captivating account of an old Chinese woman toiling for six days a week for a young couple and wants to be accepted as a grandmother for their young child. The tragedy that befalls for them on a Sunday picnic in Beijing is heart-rending. Ha Jin's ‘The House Behind a Weeping Cherry' is an oblique reference about sex trade of the immigrant Chinese in America. In ‘Substitutes ‘Viet Dinh portrays a group of Vietnamese students going to school even after the teachers have abandoned teaching. Junoz Diaz's ‘Wildwood' is about the struggle between a defiant daughter and her dying Dominican mother, who suffered herself due to her misadventures. Karen Brown's ‘Isobel's Daughter', Judy Troy's ‘The Order of Things' Caitlin Horrock's ‘This Is Not Your City', Andrew Sean Greer's ‘Darkness', and ‘Nadine Gordimer's Beneficiary' are among the captivating pieces. Every story has its unique feature in both the volumes.

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Literary Review

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