Fly Already by Etgar Keret review – a dazzling short story collection


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The Israeli writer’s whimsy often conceals gut-wrenching wisdom, while heartache comes laced with hilarity

In the title story of Etgar Keret’s new collection, a father and his young son are walking down the street when they spot a man on the roof of a four-storey building. “Don’t do it, please!” shouts the father, begging the man to give life another chance. Meanwhile his son, convinced they are witnessing a superhero about to take flight, is growing impatient. He urges the man to jump: “Come on and fly already, before it gets dark!”

The scene contains several elements that will be familiar to readers of Keret’s eight previous books of stories: mordant humour, a wry take on family life and the juxtaposition of the existential and the mundane. The 52-year-old Israeli author inspires devotion among his fans– Clive James has called him “one of the most important writers ...

Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg review – darkly comic stories


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The American writer’s first book in 12 years showcases her singular, scintillating prose

The wry, singular stories of the US short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg aren’t easy to pin down. Temporally fluid, chatty without being workaday, they don’t rely on plot yet aren’t person-has-thoughts narratives either and are often built from a dizzying array of moving parts. If there’s a secret, she isn’t giving it away, telling interviewers that she considers writing a “holy” act not to be “approached casually”, but also that she writes by “just sitting down and seeing what my hand does”.

The pieces in her new book, her first in 12 years, immerse us in a range of perspectives, from that of a dog-owning widow in need of home help to a schoolboy holding tight at bedtime after learning about terrestrial rotation. Eisenberg trusts us to stay afloat: when the artist narrator of the title story falls ...

Playful Metafiction: Paul Park’s A City Made of Words


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Paul Park’s A City Made of Words is the latest volume in PM Press’s Outspoken Authors line of short science fiction collections. We’re now twenty-three volumes into the series, each of which combines an interview with the author, a bibliography of varying completeness, and some combination of new and reprinted writing—and until I read this new book, I thought I knew how they worked. There were, on the one hand, the collections that might serve as introductions, books like Elizabeth Hand’s Fire or John Crowley’s Totalitopia, concise proofs of the author’s value. On the other hand I counted such books as Samuel Delany’s The Atheist in the Attic and Michael Moorcock’s Modem Times 2.0 as essential reading for the committed that would challenge, mystify, or scare off neophytes.

With A City Made of Words, Park eludes my categories. I can’t decide whether this book is a perfect ...

Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg – an American master of the short story


This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian


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Witty New York narratives and apocalyptic atmospheres make for a collection that rewards rereading

“I always thought of writing as holy,” Deborah Eisenberg told the Paris Review in 2013. “I still do. It’s not something to be approached casually.” No one could accuse Eisenberg, who has published five story collections in 33 years, and whose previous book came out when George W Bush was president, of being casual. She says her stories take about a year each to write, which doesn’t seem so long when one considers their humour, their precision and their great intricacy. She writes stories that demand, and reward, revisiting.

Eisenberg’s four previous collections all begin with a young person coming to New York and undergoing a transformation, so it feels significant that Your Duck Is My Duck should buck this trend and open with an older person, a painter, leaving the city to become a ...

Hugos Spotlight: The Finalists for Best Short Story


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In the lead-up to the 2019 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s novel, young adult, and short fiction Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

Each this year’s Hugo finalists for Best Short Story—from authors Brooke Bolander, P. Djèlí Clark, Sarah Gailey, Alix E. Harrow, T. Kingfisher, and Sarah Pinsker—cleverly plays with and pushes at the boundaries of genre. Whether delving into the real (and sometimes horrific) consequences of magic, gender-bending the sword-and-sorcery stock hero, balancing a fantastical alt-history with hidden historical realities, experimenting with form to deliver a uniquely layered commentary, literalizing the escapist nature of fantasy, or dropping a pack of raptors into a traditional fairy tale, these stories build on what has come before to create styles entirely new and unexpected.

 

“The Court Magician”—Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)

A boy wants to learn magic. He’s hungry, and rises high enough to ...

Kevin Barry: ‘I generally give people good old-fashioned book tokens’


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The Booker nominated author on how Don DeLillo changed his life, laughing at Nicola Barker and the Thomas Pynchon novel he has never finished

The book I am currently reading
Inventory by the Derry writer Darran Anderson in manuscript – it’s due next year. It’s a family memoir and a portrait of a city and many other things, and it will cause a stir. A fabulous piece of work. Also Aug 9 – Fog by Kathryn Scanlan, an adaptation of an actual, found diary, has had me pawing at the floor like an excited little dog.

The book that changed my life
I remember wandering around the city of Verona in my mid 20s tearfully clutching a copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and rereading passages over and over, and just getting a view of the mountain, really.

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The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories: Adrift in a Sea of Strange


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If you have been following along with this reread series since its first installment, you’ll remember my own meditations on memory. And an observation: even though I’m being honest with you, reader, I might not be the most reliable narrator—as with most of Wolfe’s characters.

Some spoilers ahead…

In that first article, I’d mentioned that, after The Book of the New Sun and There Are Doors, my friend Pedro Ribeiro lent me Wolfe’s first collection of stories: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980). I clearly remember the cover (which is not the current purple cover with the skull, but a cover featuring a man with a loincloth and a spear with something that seems a mix between a futuristic scuba diving gear and a jetpack—Wikipedia tells me it’s a Don Maitz cover).

The thing is, I don’t remember if I actually ...

“Law and order were nothing—not even words any longer”: Types of Aphasia and Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds”


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The premise of Octavia Butler’s 1983 short story “Speech Sounds,” which won the Hugo for Best Short Story in 1984, is that humanity has lost the ability to use language due to some sort of illness that appeared suddenly three years before the story begins. The effects are described as “stroke-like” and “highly specific,” and language is lost and not regained. This illness can also lead to paralysis, intellectual impairment, memory loss, and death. Society has collapsed into violent chaos, but, for some reason, left-handed people are less affected by the urge for violence. 

People in this setting can still vocalize: they can roar, grunt, and squawk. In linguistics, the term “speech sounds” refers to the sounds that people use to create language, and this is the domain of phoneticians. Speech sounds include the entire range of sounds that can be made with the vocal tract, from bilabial fricatives ...

Lost Proust stories of homosexual love finally published


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Written in the late 1890s but held back from publication, the nine tales in Le Mystérieux Correspondant are due out this autumn

Nine lost stories by Marcel Proust, which the revered French author is believed to have kept private because of their “audacity”, are due to be published for the first time this autumn.

Touching on themes of homosexuality, the stories were written by Proust during the 1890s, when he was in his 20s and putting together the collection of poems and short stories that would become Plaisirs et les jours (Pleasures and Days). He decided not to include them.

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Bryan Washington: ‘Many authors haven’t met poor people and that’s very clear in their writing’


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The author explains how little poverty reveals and why short stories helped make sense of the life in his home city of Houston

In one of the stories in Bryan Washington’s debut collection Lot, two men share a meal then go upstairs to have sex. After every public event where he has read that story, Washington says that someone has come up to him afterwards to tell him it’s the first time they’ve even considered that two men of colour might have sex with each other.

“And that’s why I read that particular section,” he says. “Because for that moment you have to – as a reader or as a listener or as an observer in that audience – give agency and give a sense of humanity to two young men from communities you may or may not think of or see on a daily basis, let alone think of ...

Lot by Bryan Washington review – tough but tender stories


This post is by Colin Grant from Books | The Guardian


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A bruising, enthralling debut collection of interlinked tales portrays precarious lives in Houston

Bryan Washington focuses on his native Houston for his first book, Lot. Houston is prosperous yet, like many cities in the US, thousands of its inhabitants are only one missed paycheck away from ruin. In this enthralling collection of interconnected short stories, Washington vividly portrays the interior lives of his marginalised fellow citizens, often overlooked in literature save as characters sketched to elicit pity and despair. These are tough yet tender tales of uncertain existences, stalked by the certainty of future violence and the shadow of homelessness.

The jeopardy the characters face is magnified both by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which blew through the city in 2017, killing more than 100 people, and by the encroaching gentrification that will further displace them. Each story is located in a different district – some are set in salubrious ...

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: ‘Black people being murdered has become palatable. I want it to be less so’


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As a child, his family was evicted from their home; now he’s winning prizes for his stunning debut Friday Black, a wild, blood-splattered ride through the America of tomorrow

Meeting famous writers never makes Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah feel “weird or nerdy”, he says. After all, George Saunders was his university tutor and later became a friend. The writer’s writer Lynne Tillman was his mentor. Roxane Gay has stamped a cover quote on Friday Black, his debut short story collection, urging the world simply to “read this book”.

Since its publication last autumn, Adjei-Brenyah has had more than enough opportunities to test his reaction to meeting his literary heroes – moments such as the night in February when he unexpectedly won the book of the year prize at the PEN awards. Zadie Smith was sitting directly behind him as they read his name out. “She looked so regal and epic ...

Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: July 2019


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I can’t tell you how to while away the long summer days and hot, sweaty nights, but reading some short speculative fiction is an excellent use of your time, if I do say so myself. You could read a story about a faerie market or a murderous enslaved girl or little green aliens or robots or a ton of other intriguing premises. There were a lot of great stories this month, and choosing only ten to feature was quite the challenge. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in July.

 

Advice For Your First Time At the Faerie Market by Nibedita Sen

This whole issue of Fireside was wall-to-wall with fantastic short stories, but this one had to be my favorite. Nibedita Sen writes beautifully and intricately. There are moments when you think she might take the easy way out, ...

Crêpes of wrath: unknown John Steinbeck tale of a chef discovered


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The Amiable Fleas, which charts a cuisinier’s comical love for his cat Apollo has been translated into English for the first time

A whimsical short story by John Steinbeck, in which the usually less cheery author tells the story of a temperamental French chef’s love for his cat, is being published in English for the first time this week.

The author of Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden lived in Paris in the mid-1950s, where he wrote a weekly column for the French daily Le Figaro called One American in Paris. One of his pieces took the form of a short story, Les Puces sympathiques. Published in French on 31 July 1954, it was found by Andrew Gulli in Steinbeck’s papers at the Ransom Centre at the University of Texas at Austin. Gulli is the editor of the Strand magazine, which is publishing it ...

Rebel, radical, relic? Nadine Gordimer is out of fashion – we must keep reading her


This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian


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Returning to his survey of the best short story writers of all time, Chris Power looks at Gordimer’s long career documenting South African apartheid

In 1975, Nadine Gordimer reflected that “there are some stories I have gone on writing, again and again, all my life, not so much because the themes are obsessional but because I found other ways to take hold of them”. All of the areas Gordimer’s fiction explores most intently – South African society, race and the relations between the sexes – underwent figurative and literal revolutions between 1939, when she published her first story, and her death in 2014. (Her final story collection was published in 2007, her final novel in 2012.) But the connections between her earliest and latest stories are striking, responding as they do to the foreshocks and aftershocks of some of the 20th century’s most dramatic events.

Consider her 1947 story ...

Orange World by Karen Russell review – weirdly magical stories


This post is by Daisy Johnson from Books | The Guardian


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In the US writer’s third collection, a demon demands breast milk from a new mother, and a Joshua tree’s spirit leaps into the body of a woman

I first encountered Karen Russell when I was a student, hunting for short-story writers in the library. Finding a copy of her debut collection St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which was longlisted for the 2007 Guardian first book award, I took it home on a whim. With some books you begin a relationship with an author that will continue hungrily through everything they write. Russell’s writing inhabits its own universe, with metaphor and simile taking us to strange new places; we are led by the hand and find ourselves completely submerged, only later to come to, groggily, in our own world. In Russell’s second collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, women are silkworms and dead presidents live in ...

What will Palestine be like in 2048? Writers turn to sci-fi for the answer


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A new anthology collects 12 authors’ visions of life in the region in 2048 – providing a liberating change for some

Twelve acclaimed Palestinian writers have imagined what their country might look like in 2048, 100 years after the Nakba saw more than 700,000 people expelled from their homes, in what is believed to be the first ever collection of science fiction from the occupied territories.

Stories in Palestine + 100 range from Majd Kayyal’s depiction of a futuristic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which two parallel worlds occupy the same geographic space, to Saleem Haddad’s Matrix-like concept of a “right to digital return”. Man Booker International prize nominee Mazen Maarouf’s story, meanwhile, is set in the aftermath of a nanobot attack in 2037, narrated by the last Palestinian left alive, his body so affected by radiation that he is kept in a glass box, but who cannot be ...

Stand By Me by Wendell Berry review – the soul of Kentucky


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The farmer-environmentalist’s precisely drawn tales about family loyalties span a century of rural life

When you say the word “Kentucky”, most Americans think of long-time Republican senator Mitch McConnell, arguably the man behind the curtain in the present US governmental collapse, as well as of horse racing and tobacco, not necessarily in that order. The octogenarian writer, farmer and environmentalist Wendell Berry, a native Kentuckian who has been hailed as “a prophet” by the New York Times, has a more nuanced view of his home state, and presents it with precision and care in this collection of short stories written over 40 years and centred on a group of (male) friends and relatives in a town near the Kentucky River, a little south of the Ohio border.

The title of Berry’s collection, Stand By Me, reflects his overall theme, which is an exploration, covering about a century, ...

Exhalation by Ted Chiang review – stories from an SF master


This post is by Adam Roberts from Books | The Guardian


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The emotional and the cerebral are expertly balanced in these meditations on the mysteries of existence

Perhaps the world’s least hasty writer, Ted Chiang has built his fiercely dedicated fanbase slowly but surely. His first story, “Tower of Babylon”, appeared in 1990. During the 90s he published only three more pieces. Eleven further stories have appeared since 2000. He has never published a novel, yet his 15 stories have won all the genre’s most prestigious awards: Hugos and Nebulas, Sturgeons, Tiptrees and BSFAs galore – more than two dozen prizes in all.

In 2016 Chiang came to the attention of a much larger audience when his “Story of Your Life” was adapted for the big screen as Arrival, starring Amy Adams. But it hasn’t changed him. He continues on his slow-paced way, occasionally releasing another carefully thought-through, precisely worked SF short to the world.

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The Journal I Did Not Keep by Lore Segal – review


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This stop-start collection of stories and essays only offers hints of the American writer’s droll brilliance

In Ladies’ Lunch, a new short story by the American writer Lore Segal, five old women gather together to eat and to talk, as they have done every other month for the last 30 years. On their agenda today: How to Prevent the Inevitable. One of them, Lotte, complains loudly about her diet. Doctors, she tells the others, should study the correlation between salt-free food and depression. But if she is tough – her sarcasm belongs to a person half her age – what use, really, is this to her now? Fighting talk is no kind of weapon in the war against children who plan on spiriting you clean out of New York and into a place called Three Trees in the Hudson Valley. The next time the women meet, they’re only four. Together, ...