Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
By Wells Tower
This is an outstanding short story collection, much of it about men on the fringes and the splendid messes they have made of their lives. There are downtrodden divorcees, narcissistic teenagers, rivaling siblings, and men struggling to reconcile with their fathers, brothers, children, and the women in their lives. The collection is by turn bizarre, hilarious, unpredictable, all of it without a single note of artifice. The final story, about, yes, pillaging Vikings, is my favorite, both brutal and surprisingly touching. I eagerly await his follow up.
By Jhumpa Lahiri
In some way, Lahiri is not exactly on unaccustomed ground in this collection, as she once more visits multigenerational family stories, most of them revolving around Bengali immigrants. But the tales are so vivid, so precise, so filled with such a quiet, emerging sense of humanity, as to make it seem fresh all over again. The characters in this collection are haunted by regret, isolation, loss, the weight of heritage, and tragedies both cataclysmic and personal. Lahiri brings them to life with her trademark gorgeous, effortless prose that manages to be both sparse and rich.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
By Daniyal Mueenuddin
This is a collection of interconnected stories set in Punjab, many of them about servants, drivers, cooks, gardeners, and small time managers working for an aging feudal landowner. The characters inhabit a patriarchal, unalterably hierarchal society, where class—and the chasms it creates—is front and center. Mueenuddin brings to life both the physical and spiritual beauty of the land, as well as the endless schemes, manipulations, and the turning wheels of a well-oiled corruption machine. What emerges is a moving, complex, and contradictory portrait, not only of the inhabitants of the farm, but also of modern day Pakistan.
By Tania James
One of my favorite collections of the last few years, Aerogrammes’ stories are funny, tender, eclectic, and keenly observed. The characters—ranging from a pair of dignified Indian wrestlers, to a ghost, a chimpanzee, and a melancholic, aging dance teacher—are created so vividly, so warmheartedly, that it is impossible not to care about them. In these original stories—especially the opening two, which are, frankly, knockouts—James displays startling clarity of vision and shows instincts, range, and wisdom that her debut novel only hinted toward.
Tenth of December
By George Saunders
This one is by now an obvious choice, but I can’t omit it for the sake of trying to appear original. I will confess, with some shame, that I am a Saunders neophyte. Consider me among the enchanted and the converted. This eclectic collection never ceases to delight with its at times absurd, surreal, and darkly humorous look at very serious subjects: cancer, poverty, child abuse, illegal immigration, free will. There are no old bags of tried and true tricks here. Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time. His “point of entry” into each story is such a feat of inventiveness that you cannot fully appreciate his genius until you have re-read the stories, which I highly recommend.