A Year in Reading: Chang-rae Lee

December 10, 2013

coverThe most exciting book of fiction I read this past year is Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut collection of stories, Battleborn. Despite her many recent accolades and awards, I hadn’t heard of this young writer – the collection was published in fact in 2012 – and from the moment I opened the first pages I was enthralled, utterly and completely. I was awed by the astonishing variety, intelligence, and subtle invention of the stories, which transport the reader from the Gold Rush boom of the 1850s to present day hardscrabble Nevada and back again, each tale endowed with its own felicitously made world and surprising narrative mode, each tale bristling and alive with its own sense of voice and being, each peopled by characters daring reinvention, all of it agleam with a beauty that positively leaps from the pages. There’s nothing mannered or studied about these wide-ranging stories, no straining to manufacture a portfolio of perfected “styles,” which a young writer of such prodigious talent could readily achieve, if she so wished. But Watkins has no such interest. To me, her gift is akin to that of those rare actors, like a Streep or a Brando, who can totally become a character but retain their own essence through and through, the creation and creator exquisitely bridged, forged into something unlikely and singular. Fantastic stuff.

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is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Selected by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best writers under forty, Chang-rae Lee teaches writing at Princeton University.

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