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Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents…
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Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

by Lorin Stein

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This book is similar in format to the 2000 anthology "You've Got to Read This" (highly recommended), and also to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast (highly, wildly, hysterically, frantically recommended). Twenty authors were asked to select a short story (by some other author) and to write a brief introductory comment for it. The stories were chosen from the archives of the noted literary fiction journal "The Paris Review."

Being literary fiction, these stories don't have pat endings or pat plots or pat characters. They don't follow those writing rules you may have read about in "The Idiot's Guide to Writing Best-Selling Fiction for Dummies." They are sometimes mysterious, often quirky, at times experimental, and occasionally packed to the gills with WTF. I found a few of them too opaquely obscure to be enjoyable, and I expect some other readers will also have that experience (though perhaps tripping over different stories than I did). But other stories I found delightfully funny, wickedly clever, tear-jerkingly sad, or simply exquisite examples of the art of short fiction.

The joy in an anthology like this is in discovery. Finding a story that's an amazing read; that makes you want to look further into the author's work, thus perhaps leading to many more amazing reads. For me, the discoveries included James Salter's compressed and brilliant "Bangkok" (evidently something of a classic in lit-fic short story circles, so I'm probably blowing my credibility by admitting that I hadn't read it before), Mary-Beth Hughes' wrenchingly painful "Pelican Song," and Mary Robison's just-plain-wonderful "Likely Lake."

And so on. If you have any affinity for literary fiction short stories, I'm sure you will have your own discoveries as you read through this book. So quit wasting time with this review and buy the book and start reading. Wonderful discoveries and amazing reads await you.

========
Appendix:
I have a gripe with how this book is promoted. On its front cover, its back cover, and in the product description here on the Amazon page, lists of authors are shown. But there's no indication as to whether the book has a story by any given author, or just one of the introductory comments. Thus, for example, despite the implied promise on the front cover you'll find no stories in here by Ann Beattie, Amy Hempel, Jonathan Lethem, or several other notable authors listed.

But that was just a stupid and dishonest marketing decision (Is there any other kind of marketing decision?), and it doesn't affect the quality of the book's contents.

You can use the Amazon page's "Look Inside" feature to see the book's table of contents, but as a quick alternative, here's a list of contributors, divided up into story-contributors and comment-contributors:

Stories by: Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges, Jane Bowles, Ethan Canin, Raymond Carver, Evan S. Connell, Bernard Cooper, Guy Davenport, Lydia Davis, Thomas Glynn, Mary-Beth Hughes, Denis Johnson, Leonard Michaels, Steven Millhauser, Craig Nova, Mary Robison, Norman Rush, James Salter, Dallas Wiebe, Joy Williams

Comments by: Daniel Alarcon, Ann Beattie, David Bezmozgis, Lydia Davis, Dave Eggers, Jeffrey Eugenides, Mary Gaitskill, Aleksandar Hemon, Amy Hempel, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, Ben Marcus, David Means, Lorrie Moore, Daniel Orozco, Norman Rush, Mona Simpson, Ali Smith, Wells Tower, Joy Williams ( )
  KarlBunker | Apr 7, 2014 |
These are some very good short stories, but, at times, the commentary on each story by a current author of note, wasn't that insightful or useful. But, what the hell, if you have such superb short stories to fall back, you can cut these commenting authors some slack. ( )
  jphamilton | Nov 8, 2013 |
Loved the works by Denis Johnson, Jane Bowles, Mary-Beth Hughes, Thomas Glynn, Ethan Canin, and Lydia Davis. Like, amazingly loved them. The introductions were uneven, and some of the other pieces just didn't rock my world or were already familiar to me . . . Which is to be totally expected in an anthology. ( )
  beckydj | Mar 31, 2013 |
It is with much sadness that I have to review this book so low. I was very excited when I saw this one on the new non-fiction shelves at my library. I thought oh, GREAT, a book for short story readers, writers and lovers of the craft. The thought that these authors had decades of stories to choose from made me think I'd read only the very best. Now, I know this is a very subjective thing, and everyone's tastes are different, but I cannot believe that these 20 stories were the ones chosen to showcase the beauty of the short story form. It was almost like the authors had a droll assignment and were like, well, which one stuck in my mind - even if truly bad. Many of the stories were weird, experimental ones (and not in a good way) from the 1960s and almost all were quite possibly the most odious humans to be found. There has to be one thread of likeability to pull of a story with human complexity to keep a reader interested. None of these kept me interested. It got to where I dreaded each one. I know The Paris Review is highly esteemed (and I even have a subscription!) but this collection is just dreadful. I have liked other Paris Review collections a whole lot more, so I am sure there are plenty of great stories to be read and re-read. These just were not those. Oh well, I did like two stories: 1) "The Palace Thief" by Ethan Canin; and "Emmy Moore's Journal" by Jane Bowles. Even the Carver selection surprised me. He has so many wonderful stories and "Why Don't You Dance" was picked. I also learned zip about writing short stories, which I love to do. I thought the introductions would be more helpful. Overall, just a real let down. ( )
1 vote CarolynSchroeder | Jan 8, 2013 |
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"Twenty contemporary authors introduce twenty sterling examples of the short story from the pages of The Paris Review"--Cover.

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