October 7, 2023
Four striking collections of stories, and the most recent novel by a prize-winning queer Black writer who is launching his book at The Center fill the column this week. As Margaret Atwood so wisely put it: “You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan.”
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Published by Knopf
In Lahiri’s new story collection there is so much to enjoy. In “Well-Lit House,” an immigrant family tries unsuccessfully to get a foothold in the city in a sad but somehow optimistic tale. In “P’s Parties,” during one of P’s annual fetes the happily married narrator has a brief interlude with another guest which will unravel his life. In “The Steps,” a public staircase is the clever setting for six short takes, featuring a mother, a widow, a screenwriter, and two brothers. Lahiri writes first in Italian and then translates, revealing the outer and inner workings of this great ancient city that she has adopted as her own.
By Bryan Washington
Published by Riverhead Books
Food clearly fascinates Washington. In Memorial a Black man and his boyfriend’s Japanese mother bond over meals together. Here he explores similar themes (cooking, mixed-race relationships, being gay, unconventional families, and the diverse city of Houston). The voices of three gay men alternate to reveal how they came together; the bakery and bar they work in; Cam’s overwhelming grief over the loss of his partner, Kai; and how Ty, HIV positive, is dealing with new relationships. It is unsparing and heartfelt, psychologically astute, filled with great dialogue (and food), examining the power of friendship and the distance that kindness can go to assuage pain. And watch for his occasional recipes in the New York Times..
This is Salvaged
By Vauhini Vara
Published by Norton
Vara (The Immortal King Rao, shortlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize) is the daughter of Indian immigrants, and writes about quirky characters who often do not fit in. In “Eighteen Girls,” one sister says, “Living transforms us. In each moment of life, you’re slightly different from the person you were a moment earlier. It is magic.” In “The Irates” two girls go to a Chinese restaurant which gives out eggroll punch cards (great idea). There are sibling deaths and an artist who reproduces Noah’s Ark. Vara’s powers of human observation are acute, surprising, in a mischievous voice you’ve never encountered before. A singular talent!
By Lydia Davis
Published by Microcosm Publishing Llc / Bookshop.org
Rightly acclaimed for her close (and brief) observations of the everyday and the banal, Davis collects a multitude of stories here. Her interests are wide and varied, from bugs to neighbors to Indonesian vegetables, to the Swiss writer Peter Bischel, marriage, aging, memory and on and on. In fact, her interests are so infectious they can send you down a rabbit hole. She is also an intellectually delightful writer to spend time with and it is tempting to get comfortable and read the book cover to cover. This fine story collection, available only in independent bookshops, libraries and at Bookshop.org, is a treasure..
By Shannon Sanders
Published by Graywolf
This is Sanders’s first story collection, and it is impressive. She introduces the Collins clan, a Black family dynasty, and their friends in thirteen interconnected pieces. In “Good, Good Men,” Miles and Theo, mildly estranged brothers, must find out if their mother’s new live-in is yet another freeloader. In “Opal Cleft,” Theo’s cousin Cy, a sensation who performs in wigged drag, turns up and disrupts his fragile homelife. Each story features ‘company’ who in some way arrives to upset the equilibrium. Sanders lovingly draws a portrait of this extended family with all the attendant quarrelling, money and job challenges, and jealousies, plus lots of eating, drinking, and jazz.