Editor’s picks: Short stories

BURNING

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press, US $16, Pp 248, October 2017, ISBN 978-1555977887

The Burning Ground: Stories by Adam O’Riordan, W. W. Norton & Company, US $25.95, Pp 224, July 2017, ISBN 978-0393239553

The Mountain: Stories  by Paul Yoon,  Simon & Schuster,  US $25.00,  Pp 256, August 2017, ISBN 978-1501154089

In Her Body and Other Parties, you will meet a wife refuses to remove the green ribbon from around her neck when her husband asks her. There is a woman who talks about her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall is horrified when she discovers something strange within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. A woman undergoes a surgery-induced weight but her surgery results in an unwanted houseguest. Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we thought had shown it all. Consequently, she generates a phantasmagoric police procedure full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes. In Her Body and Other Parties, you will find horrific violence as well as the most exquisite sentiment. But they are pleasantly original. Carmen Maria Machado demolishes any myths surrounding female bodies and makes female bodies speak for themselves. These sensual and violent stories give voice to the voiceless women. This book is the literal shape of women’s collective memory and violence and humiliation. It is one of the loudest feminist voices in modern literature.

Carmen Maria Machado is a fiction writer, critic, and essayist. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, Guernica, Electric Literature, The Paris Review, AGNI, NPR, Gulf Coast, Los Angeles Review of Books, VICE, and elsewhere. Her stories have been reprinted in Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best Horror of the Year, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and Best Women’s Erotica. Her Body and Other Parties is her debut short story collection.

*****

Set in California, the characters in the eight short stories The Burning Ground are haunted by their pasts and their dreams. In ‘A Thunderstorm in Santa Monica,’ a man’s unmoored lifestyle comes back to haunt him after a long flight. In “Black Bear in the Snow,” a divorced advertising executive tries to restart a relationship with his son. In the title story, “The Burning Ground,” a painter is haunted by memories of his former lover. The characters include the deadbeat dad, the drifting divorcé, and the wayward man ― who are deeply emotional. The stories reveal the real emotions and feelings of these characters. Adam O’Riordan writes beautiful prose. With his astounding command over prose, he has written very intimate portraits of his characters. With his sharp eye, he sees what most of us fail to see as he moves from remote, sun-scorched towns to the charged hum of Venice Beach. O’Riordan is one of those writers who can easily enter the minds of their characters. Each story has the twists and turns that keep your eyes focused on the story.

Adam O’Riordan, who received his degree from Oxford University, was the youngest poet-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust. His poetry collection In the Flesh won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2011, awarded to the best writer under the age of thirty-five. He lives in Manchester, England, where he is the academic director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.

*****

The six stories in The Mountain are set throughout the world – from the Hudson Valley to the Russian Far East – and across periods of time after World War II. Paul Yoon takes the readers on a memorable journey across continents and times. Though each story is distinct, these stories are weaved around the same theme which involves the lives of migrants and survivors linked by trauma and timeless quest for solace. His characters in a sanatorium in the Hudson Valley and at a camera sweatshop in Shanghai, or a tiny village in the Pyrenes or in an inn in rural Russia share traumatic pasts which haunt them. They also share newly vagrant lives and quests for solace in their futures. They all struggle to reconcile their traumatic pasts in the wake of violence, big and small, spiritual and corporeal. A morphine-addicted nurse wanders through the decimated French countryside in search of purpose; a dissatisfied wife sporadically takes a train across Spain with a much younger man in the wake of a building explosion; a lost young woman moves from Korea to Shanghai, trying fruitlessly to outrun the ghosts of her past. Written in beautiful and seductive prose, these stories are both surreal and radical at the same time.

Paul Yoon’s first book, Once the Shore, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, a Best Debut of the Year by National Public Radio and won a 5 under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. His novel, Snow Hunters, won the 2014 Young Lions Fiction Award. His stories have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, VQR, the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Short Stories. Born in New York, he is currently a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard University. His wife Laura van den Berg is also a writer.