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


This post is by Jane Smiley from Books | The Guardian


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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


This post is by Rachel Cooke from Books | The Guardian


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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, ...

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley review – near faultless


This post is by Hephzibah Anderson from Books | The Guardian


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The author tackles what it means to be an American man of colour in his distinctive debut story collection

The “lucky” men in Jamel Brinkley’s mighty debut short story collection do not initially appear blessed. Precarious, haunted, wise too long after the event – all seem more apt descriptions as they share their magnetic tales of abandonment and flight, and of wild nights that demand to be followed to their dawn-streaked ends. They aren’t all men, either; for every fedora-doffing dandy and greying has-been there’s a lost boy or an adolescent whose desire feels a lot like fury. Indeed, it’s the question of what it takes to be a man – an American man of colour, specifically – that provides the book’s theme, and though women flit through its pages in various roles, they occupy another realm entirely. The relationships that matter here – those that define Brinkley’s characters, ...

Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: June 2019


This post is by Alex Brown from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes a whole new set of amazing short speculative fiction stories. There’s a little something for everyone in June, from a horror-filled family beach vacation to a sinister fairy tale to the perils of Martian exploration to marine biology in the age of climate change, and everything in between. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in June.

 

Beach People by Joanna Parypinski

At first glance, the premise of Beach People feels reminiscent of the horror movie Us — a family returns to their beachside cabin and encounters horrible things — but it soon takes on a horrible life of its own. Camilla’s parents are trying to repair their fractured family after the tragic death of their son. But something awful is watching them, haunting them, stalking them, infiltrating them. Joanna Parypinski ...

Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine review – a gripping short-story debut


This post is by Lara Pawson from Books | The Guardian


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Dark memories haunt these acutely observed portraits of love, loneliness and everyday ennui in Belfast

They hook you in hard, the people whose lives fill Wendy Erskine’s debut collection, but you wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them. To borrow from the balding man in a grey jacket, who makes a brief appearance commenting on the music of a fictional Belfast rocker in the penultimate story, each of these acutely observed portraits “penetrates to the heart of what it means to be lonely, or in love or to feel a failure”. An exceptional ear for dialogue, an impeccable semantic rhythm and an uncanny ability to tease laughter out of the darkest moments mean Erskine is perfectly poised to stare, unflinching, into our neoliberal abyss. The result is a gripping, wonderfully understated book that oozes humanity, emotion and humour.

The first story, “To All Their Dues”, opens in a ...

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett review – short stories lost in the myths


This post is by Johanna Thomas-Corr from Books | The Guardian


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Too much whimsy and garbled storytelling mar this collection based on the classics

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of three nonfiction books, one of which, The Pike, a biography of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, won both the Samuel Johnson prize and the Costa prize for biography in 2013. Two years ago, at the age of 65, she wrote her first novel, Peculiar Ground, set in a posh Oxfordshire country house, based on the Cornbury estate where she grew up. At the time of publication, she gave an interview to the Guardian in which she said she didn’t understand why novelists were so revered: “what they do is easy compared with nonfiction”, she said. A strange thing to admit – especially given that Hughes-Hallett’s husband, Dan Franklin, the associate publisher at Jonathan Cape, has built his career on the back of fiction writers.

But now that Hughes-Hallett has ...

Under Pressure by Faruk Šehić review – stories from war-torn Bosnia


This post is by Houman Barekat from Books | The Guardian


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A former soldier captures the brute ugliness of conflict, but the English translation feels overcooked

The Bosnian author and poet Faruk Šehić is best known for his first novel, Quiet Flows the Una, which won the 2013 EU prize for literature. Originally published in 2004 but only now available in English, Under Pressure is a collection of short stories inspired by his time as a combatant in the Bosnian war of the 1990s. They tell of towns devastated by aerial bombing, of streets and rivers littered with corpses. A dead soldier has had his eyes pecked out by birds: “His eyelashes looked monstrous, trimming two empty eye sockets like sunflower petals bordering the pistil.” One war-weary narrator pours scorn on nationalist songs that urge people to “be part of a stained glass window where the dominant colour is that of human mince”.

The prose is lively but the ...

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield review – uncanny realities


This post is by Anthony Cummins from Books | The Guardian


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Weirdness is piled on weirdness in this vivid debut collection of stories

Strange things happen in Julia Armfield’s debut collection of stories. Lovers turn to stone or rise from the dead. A PhD student collects male body parts to stick on to the lifesize outline she’s been hiding in her cellar. One protagonist shapeshifts into an insect; another gains a wolf for a stepsister.

These tales draw thrilling vigour from Armfield’s conscientiously vivid approach to their dialled-up reality. An insomnia epidemic in one story sees sufferers stalked by their own sleep, mutinous and anthropomorphised. Television, we’re told in passing, isn’t really viable any more: “Fairly early on, a live morning show with a viewership of some 4 million was yanked unceremoniously off air because the host had been attempting to present a segment on seasonal salads with his Sleep in shot behind him.”

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Salt Slow by Julia Armfield review – darkly exciting debut collection


This post is by M John Harrison from Books | The Guardian


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These short stories portray tender cruelties and macabre metamorphoses in wickedly clever prose

Julia Armfield won the 2018 White Review short story prize for “The Great Awake”, a strange tale of epidemic insomnia that was distanced yet warm, delicately told but strongly engineered. No one sleeps all that well in Salt Slow, her debut collection, either. They all have too much energy.

In “The Collectables”, a group of friends are burning Jenny’s last boyfriend in a pit at the end of the garden. Not the boy himself, of course, only the objects that represent him. Photographs. A note he wrote on a napkin. A “grisly confetti” of toenail clippings carefully collected from the bin. The fire leaves an awful smell, to explain which Jenny, Miriam and the narrator tell the neighbours they have been purging themselves of evil spirits. By then, Simon the boyfriend is off in St ...

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield review – darkly exciting debut collection


This post is by M John Harrison from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




These short stories portray tender cruelties and macabre metamorphoses in wickedly clever prose

Julia Armfield won the 2018 White Review short story prize for “The Great Awake”, a strange tale of epidemic insomnia that was distanced yet warm, delicately told but strongly engineered. No one sleeps all that well in Salt Slow, her debut collection, either. They all have too much energy.

In “The Collectables”, a group of friends are burning Jenny’s last boyfriend in a pit at the end of the garden. Not the boy himself, of course, only the objects that represent him. Photographs. A note he wrote on a napkin. A “grisly confetti” of toenail clippings carefully collected from the bin. The fire leaves an awful smell, to explain which Jenny, Miriam and the narrator tell the neighbours they have been purging themselves of evil spirits. By then, Simon the boyfriend is off in St ...

Julia Armfield: ‘There’s freedom in the monster being the norm’


This post is by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from Books | The Guardian


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The 28-year-old says her often macabre stories are about how our bodies contain and betray us – and are ‘not, not horror writing’

Julia Armfield is the sort to describe The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as “beautiful and weird”. This strange choice makes more sense when you read her debut short-story collection, Salt Slow, which could easily have those words on the back cover. “We burned what we could of Simon Phillips in a pit at the end of the garden,” opens her story The Collectibles, in which a trio of female flatmates scavenge bits of men’s bodies while drinking and ordering pizza. It is beautiful, and also weird.

Salt Slow’s stories are both mesmerising and terrifying, in which your sleep can take on a wraith-like form and step out of your body (this story, The Great Awake, won the 2018 White Review short story prize); where a ...

Top 10 books about Sudan


This post is by Jamal Mahjoub from Books | The Guardian


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Despite 30 years of repression that have hit writers unusually hard, Sudanese literature remains vigorous. Here is some of the best available in English

I was lucky to grow up in Khartoum in a house filled with books, at a time when Sudan’s public libraries flourished. One of the most startling discoveries I made as a child of about 13 was finding a couple of Tayeb Salih’s books on a shelf at home. Until that moment, I thought literature was something that took place elsewhere – in Dickens’s England or the Latin America of Borges, say. But here were stories that described the world right outside our front door. It was a moment of revelation and stirred the idea that it was possible to write.

Related: A Line in the River by Jamal Mahjoub review – Khartoum, city of memory

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Calling BAME writers: entries open for 2019 short story prize


This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian


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The hunt is on for up-and-coming writers who could scoop this year’s £1,000 Guardian/Fourth Estate prize

A Chinese villager with no arms becomes a Paralympian swimming champion; a dapper elderly Jamaican spends New Year’s Eve in a south London police cell under suspicion of domestic abuse; a Nigerian son takes his father to a euthanasia centre in a Britain with no time for invalids. These three very different tales – respectively by Yiming Ma, Lisa Smith and Abiola Oni – are all previous winners of the Guardian/ Fourth Estate BAME short story award, showing just how vigorous and various the short story can be as a showcase for up-and-coming talent.

The hunt is now on for the fourth winner of the £1,000 prize, which is open to black and minority writers aged over 18 and based in the UK or Ireland. Among this year’s judges is Niki Chang, a ...

Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery review – short story debut


This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian


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Young women struggle with failure and disappointment in a dark yet funny collection

At the end of Mary Gaitskill’s 1988 story “Secretary”, the narrator recalls a psychiatrist asking her: “Debby, do you ever have the sensation of being outside yourself, almost as if you can actually watch yourself from another place?” It’s a question that pretty much every lead character in Irish writer Nicole Flattery’s debut story collection could answer “yes” to.

Like Gaitskill, Flattery’s dominant interest is in people who are deeply estranged not just from their surroundings – they are isolated even in crowded rooms, and the ones in relationships are the most isolated of all – but from themselves, too. In the excellent “Track”, which won the 2017 White Review short story prize, a woman is dating a famous but fading comedian who calls her “an odd little ghost person”, and eventually abandons her ...

Free short story vending machines delight commuters


This post is by Esther Addley from Books | The Guardian


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‘Short story stations’ in Canary Wharf print one- three- and five-minute reads on demand

“Every single day,” says Paresh Raichura, “I’m on the lookout for something new to read.” On his hour-long commute to Canary Wharf, where he works for the Financial Ombudsman, he picks up Time Out or a local paper or the freesheet Metro, but says: “I’ve stopped reading all the long novels I used to read.”

Why?

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Instructions for a Funeral by David Means review – love, loss and fistfights


This post is by M John Harrison from Books | The Guardian


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Sly humour runs through the acclaimed American author’s fifth collection of short stories

Following his Man Booker-longlisted debut novel Hystopia, US author David Means returns to familiar ground with this fifth collection of short stories. In his opening shot, “Confessions”, part autofiction, part introduction, he is kind enough to explain to us, before he gets into them, what these pieces are supposed to do and how he hopes they might do it. He’s also careful to duck the responsibility of his own method. It’s a weight, he feels. It might work or it might not. He admits you can only try. He’s concerned to say what he means and mean what he says, even if that means saying it more than once. You can’t make stuff up, one of his characters will warn later, because then you would be “pushing the bounds, and the bounds are what make the ...

Short story vending machines to transport London commuters


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The machines, made by French company Short Édition, will dispense free one, three and five-minute stories … with the first penned by Anthony Horowitz

Weary city workers will have a new way of passing the time on their commute once the UK’s first short-story vending machines are installed at Canary Wharf this week.

Dispensing one, three and five-minute stories free to passersby at the touch of a button, the vending machines are made by French company Short Édition. They already feature in locations across France, in Hong Kong and the US, where Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola was such a fan he invested in the company and had a dispenser installed at his San Francisco restaurant, Cafe Zoetrope.

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Instructions for a Funeral by David Means review – brawlers and bawlers


This post is by Tim Adams from Books | The Guardian


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David Means’s latest collection of American stories confirms his standing as a master of the form

David Means begins this, his fifth collection of short stories, with the brief Confessions. In his previous collections, and his Booker-longlisted novel Hystopia, Means has established a voice – rigorous and dense and conversational by turns – that is among the most distinctive and affecting in contemporary American fiction; its trademark is the way it shifts easily between the fictional and the apparently autobiographical. This opening, however, seems like one directly from the heart. The confession is, to begin with, a small elegy for the stories that never got written, or those that were “trashed, put to bed, dead in the water, so to speak; lost to me, to eternity, or whatever”. Means likens, glancingly, those stories to human lives that pass unrecorded, and contrasts those unspoken existences with men and women whose lives ...

Chris Power on Farnborough: ‘I probably grew up surrounded by arms dealers’


This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian


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The author recalls living in a sleepy commuter town, unaware that his neighbours were developing missile guidance systems

Growing up, I always thought my hometown was anonymous, but I didn’t suspect until much later that its anonymity might be a ploy. When people ask me where I grew up and I tell them Farnborough, some of them say: “Oh, the place with the air show.” It was always my town’s claim to fame, but if I thought about it at all I thought about it in the same way you might think of a circus or a parade: it was about the Red Arrows, stunt helicopters, or maybe a gigantic Airbus coming in to land that would, in the middle of a hot, bright day, plunge our garden into darkness.

What Farnborough Airshow really is, of course, is an arms fair, with some family fun sprinkled around the edges. ...