A short list of other highly recommended collections
Alphabetically by author:
War By Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón (HarperCollins) —
An engaging nine-story debut by a writer born in Peru and raised in the U.S. Settings range from the streets of Lima to the streets of Manhattan. Personal relationships, tested by cultural, racial, economic, and political differences are at the heart of these keenly observed stories.
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Follies by Anne Beattie (Scribner) —
A novella, in which happenstance leads to tragedy, followed by nine stories in which happenstance leads to, well, more happenstance. Beattie's characteristic deadpan wit, snappy dialogue, and naturalistic plots prevail in stories that are original, confident, and often inventive.
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Fascination by William Boyd (Alfred A. Knopf) —
Fourteen diverse stories with interesting narrative strategies, including one in which the last word of one section becomes the first of the next, successively proceeding from A to Z, and another which uses video controls (such as play, fast forward, repeat) as stage direction. This prominent British writer manages to pull off these ambitious schemes, illuminating rather than trampling the humanity of his characters.
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Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle (Viking) — A wide-ranging collection of fourteen boldly written stories by an acknowledged master of the form. Among the common strands are the uneasy, sometimes adversarial relationship people have with nature and the often irresistible impulse toward self-destruction that leads to substance abuse. These stories are as powerful as they are clever and as serious as they are funny.
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Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz (Alfred A. Knopf) —
A pregnant Mexican woman desperate to cross the border to give birth on U.S. soil is repeatedly foiled and ends up carrying the baby for four years. A surgeon newly arrived in America writes a journal that details his obsession with amputations after administering vast numbers of them to soldiers at the height of the Civil War. These are just two among a dozen allegorical tales told with imagination and emotional intensity, while also relating insightful social commentary.
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A Child Again by Robert Coover (McSweeney's) —
A beautifully produced book of inventive stories that translate childhood fancies to adult realities, unabashedly bringing sexuality and aging into the mix. One of these nineteen stories based on classic children's tales and songs, concerning "The Knave of Hearts," is affixed to the back of the book as an oversized deck of cards in which the scenes can be shuffled and arranged in nearly any order. Bold new work by an esteemed veteran writer.
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Calamity and Other Stories by Daphne Kalotay (Doubleday) —
Twelve straightforward narratives about love and longing alternate among three main characters who all come together in the final story, creating a connectedness that feels satisfying and organic rather than forced. This debut collection is deftly written and emotionally astute.
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Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press) —
These nine stories are indeed magic. Seemingly implausible plots and creatures—including zombies, ghosts, witches, talking cats, and sinister rabbits—are expertly shaped into absorbing, dreamlike stories full of humor and grace. Best of all is the title story at the center of which are both a bizarre, surreal television show with a cult following and garden-variety teenage angst.
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Michael Martone by Michael Martone (FC2) —
"Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana" —this is how each of these 42 stories, all in the form of contributor's notes, begins, before they go off in entirely different directions. It's about the sometimes illuminating and sometimes distorted stories we tell about ourselves and to ourselves. There's even a laudatory cover blurb from Martone: "…I found I couldn't put the book down, and never wanted it to end." Likewise.
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Stop That Girl by Elizabeth McKenzie (Random House) —
This debut novel in nine stories concerns the protagonist's often painful transition from girlhood to womanhood. An absent father, a painfully neurotic mother, and a genuinely frightening grandmother up the stakes and provide obstacles that are-wisely on the author's part-ultimately accommodated rather than overcome. A brave, bittersweet, and compelling book.
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Last Night by James Salter (Alfred A. Knopf) —
A slim volume of ten beautifully written, evocative stories that, though set in the present or recent past, evoke a bygone era before information technology became so pervasive, popular culture so invasive, and wealth was still a matter of class. Throughout, a quieter though not necessarily gentler world comes to life, in which romantic passions create the conflicts and bittersweet consequences result.
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God's Gym by John Edgar Wideman (Houghton-Mifflin) —
Ten intense, poetic stories in which the walls between and around characters are assailed but rarely breached. The resulting fatalism is so astutely tied to human nature that no counter argument seems plausible. Powerful, compelling, existential, and jazz-like in the rhythms of the prose, these stories explore issues of attraction, strength, faith, and belief.
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