In the Country: Stories * * * a debut collection of stories by Manila born Mia Alvar (Harvard, Columbia) "speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons... (it) explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined."
A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and 80s.
"These stories are stunning in their insight, compelling for their precise and nuanced detail, and provocative for the way they blur class lines."
Set in the pristine Connecticut suburb of Old Cranbury, The Wonder Garden * * * *, Lauren Acampora's debut collection of interwoven stories "wields prose with the precision of a scalpel, insightfully dissecting people's desperate emotions and most cherished hopes."
A home inspector undergoing a bitter divorce tries to dissuade a couple from buying their dream home, unable to bear the sight of their optimism about the future. A disturbed businessman becomes obsessed with the idea of viewing his wife's brain surgery while inside the operating room. A young, pregnant wife cannot believe the advertising executive that she married now wants to chuck his career and heed the call of his spirit animal.
"A clear-eyed lens into the strange, human wants of upper-class suburbia."
Just released is The State We're In: Maine Stories *, the latest by the multiple prize-winning master of the short form, Ann Beattie. Though many of these 15 loosely linked stories are set in Maine (where Beattie now lives), what unites them is more than geography. "Riveting, witty, sly, idiosyncratic, and bold, these stories describe a state of mind, a manner of being..."
"Beattie is a master at depicting the peculiarly painful valor necessary for contending with troubled family members, spouses, lovers, neighbors, even pets. She is also that rarest of beings, a brilliantly comic literary writer. Some of her hilarity is circumstantial... Most often, it's her skirmishing dialogue that makes us laugh out loud."
If you like these short story collections, check out Publishers Weekly's The 10 Best Short Story Collections You've Never Read.
* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * * * = 4 starred reviews