Book Review

The Penguin Book of New American Voices edited by Jay McInerney

Photo on 07-11-2013 at 16.51

I found this excellent 90s-scene short story collection in a charity shop, picking it up mainly because amongst its sixteen stories it contained ones by three writers I know and really like (Jennifer Egan, Donna Tartt and David Foster Wallace) as well as one by Jeff Eugenides, someone I have long intended to “check out”. I also figured that, as a former big fan of Jay McInerney (to the point where I took Bright Lights, Big City as the key source text for the bad novel I wrote about eighteen months ago*), I wouldn’t be averse to seeing what he selected as the pick of the crop of the generation of writers following him.

And I was not disappointed. Though there were a few stories in here that I didn’t like, and sadly DFW’s I had read before in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, I LOVED both the Donna Tartt and the Jennifer Egan** pieces, my other justifiers for buying the book. I found the Eugenides fun, but not amazing, but was very much impressed by the work of several writers I had never encountered before.

Charles D’Ambrosio’s ‘Her Real Name’ is a strange, flashback-filled story about a decommissioned Navy officer who picks up a terminally-ill teenage girl for a brief, literally moribund road trip West; Pam Houston’s ‘Cowboys Are My Weakness’ is a great piece about a woman reaching emotional maturity as she realises the emptiness of her long-term casual relationship; Jess Mowry’s ‘Crusader Rabbit’ is an arresting snippet about a young hustler paternally taking a child heroin addict under his wing; whilst Dale Peck’s confrontationally-titled ‘Fucking Martin’ is a beautiful tale about lost love, failed potential for happiness and an individual’s reaction to the AIDS crisis that would have been reaching its (developed world) peak around the time the story was written.

The collection is varied, both in terms of setting and style. There are some very experimental offerings, and second-person voice (perhaps unsurprisingly) occurs more than once. But I liked this, and though it provided a rounded view into an American literary scene that is now about twenty years older***, I enjoyed reading the familiar and the strange, the new (to me) and the established. I will certainly be less dismissive of this kind of publication in the future.


*The only real difference being that my text lacks a moralising ending.

**Whose poorly-titled A Visit From The Goon Squad I read and cried repeatedly at on a ferry during the Summer.


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