• The River of Lost Voices

    Mark Brazaitis

    written by one of sandi’s professors at wvu, these stories are all set in guatemala. it’s a little weird reading stories about guatemala from the perspective of a white american, but he seems to bring light to the tense and sometimes tenuous relationships between the indigenous people, those of spanish decent, and less frequently the foreigners. the longer stories pack the sturdier punches, especially “A Detective’s Story” and “Bathwater.” the stories all seem to be pretty melancholy, and i wonder if that is really the message he intended.more

  • Ship Fever

    Andrea Barrett

    the back of the book claims these are “set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century.” i don’t want to nitpick or anything, but several are mostly set in the twentieth century and two are set in the eighteenth century.

    the stories all hinge on the sciences — from genetics to zoology to public health to several other branches — and that is definitely what makes this collection so outstanding. i love the concept of the littoral zone (in the story of the same name): “… that space between high and low watermarks where organisms struggled to adapt to the daily rhythm of immersion and exposure.

    the story that caught me the sharpest was “Rare Bird,” but then it ended so mysteriously and i’m still annoyed....more

  • The Stories of John Cheever

    John Cheever

    i only read about a third of this, since 700 pages of short stories seemed like a bit much all at once. even if i have been reading so many short story collections lately. these are set mostly in nyc, various times between the 1930s and 1950s with a range of class focuses. Cheever has exciting insights into his characters. i loved the slightly Twilight Zone feel to “The Enormous Radio” and the impressively epic “The Day the Pig Fell Into the Well.”

    the repeated references to old-fashioneds prompted me to order one one night, and the bartender had to look it up in a book and follow the recipe. the problem with ordering drinks like that is that the...more

  • Close Range

    Annie Proulx

    sometimes i don’t know if it’s that the stories get better as they come or if it just takes a few to get into the general feel. having been in wyoming last year, it’s nice to have a sense of how attuned the descriptions of scenery and atmosphere are in this collection. the longer stories are easy favorites: “Pair of Spurs” falls open in well-measured time; “Brokeback Mountain” is just heartbreaking, two tough cowboys in love and trying to make sense of it.

    The country appeared as empty ground, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, intricate sky, flocks of small birds like packs of cards thrown up in the air, and a faint track drifting toward the red-walled horizon. Graves were unmarked, fallen house

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Betty Smith

    i’m surprised i never read this when i was younger, and reading it now, i wish i had read it then. it’s a coming-of-age story set in williamsburg (long before it was hip and fucked up) at the turn of the century. there are so many wonderful things about this book, even just the little details that are little asides from the story i assume are lifted from real life experiences. i’m pretty sure it was elissa who told me i should read this last summer when i’d just moved to brooklyn — i think because of the part about the piano left behind by its owners because it wouldn’t fit down the stairs.

    the metaphor of the ailanthus (the...more

  • Circling the Drain

    Amanda Davis

    it’s kind of morbid that i sought this book out after reading Davis’s obituary in march. she also published a novel entitled Wonder When You’ll Miss Me.

    the stories are either pretty good or pretty darn good, occasionally with these fantastical elements that are really interesting. a couple of stories read something like folk tales or fairy tales. it’s just bizarre that this is now half of her life’s work.

    definitely a good read for the short story obsessed....more

  • Across the Bridge

    Mavis Gallant

    the april 2003 issue of Harper’s had a review of the two new collections of Gallan’s stories—being published by The New York Review of Books (one of which has just been released) — and called her an “unknown master.” at first i felt like reading the review had pushed my expectations too high; while the first three stories were interesting, all centering around the same family in montreal with some interesting language dynamics, they weren’t as altogether astounding as i’d assumed they would be. then in the middle a couple of the stories were just amazing and i understood where the reviewer was coming from.

    at times Gallant’s style reminds me a little of Alice Munro, a...more

  • Sister of My Heart

    Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

    last summer, during my total short story fixation, i read The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, also by Divakaruni — it’s probably one of my favorite collections, so i was curious to read something else by her.

    this novel is such a well-spun story, each chapter just barely resolving, strongly pulling into the subsequent chapter. ceasing to read became a very purposeful action. the chapters alternate points of view of two cousins who are, some people think, unnaturally close. the alternating is done so well — their voices are so unique but still tied in to each other that the story doesn’t jolt between them. the full ensemble of characters are dynamic and everything is nicely focused. there are no loose bits of extraneous...more

  • The Sweet Hereafter

    Russell Banks

    i managed to rent this movie right when my roommate received the book as a gift. i didn’t really care for the movie at all. so much of the story seemed painfully undeveloped, major events slipped in casually and then never referenced again. reading the book, it’s a novel i would not have predicted to be hollywoodified, so i guess i would have expected the results.

    basically this is the aftermath of a tragic school bus crash that leaves few survivors. the book is told through a sequence of narrators, and it’s all very internal. everything that makes this story interesting can’t possibly be translated into a film — without massive voiceovers, from which we are spared. the narrative...more

  • Invisible Cities

    Italo Calvino

    i just read this for the first time this past autumn, so this may constitute the fastest desire to re-read a book yet. it is just so vast and focused, beautiful, brilliant. it’s pointless for me to describe it as the words will probably just sound trite. a definite favorite.more