“I’m sure the ghost is fascinated by the N.Y.C. vs. M.F.A. debate, and would add that there’s a literary-world bias… toward writing done by the living.” The New Yorker interviews Rebecca Curtis about ghost stories and her latest piece of short fiction, “The Pink House.” For more about Curtis, check out our review of her debut collection Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money.
This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Looking at the fiction, it appears that some of these books crossed our radar as well:The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta: A most anticipated book.After Dark by Haruki Murakami: Ben’s review.Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo: A most anticipated book.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: A most anticipated book.Exit Ghost by Philip Roth: A most anticipated book.Falling Man by Don Delillo: Tempering Expectations for the Great 9/11 NovelThe Gathering by Anne Enright: Underdog Enright Lands the 2007 BookerHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling: Harry Potter is Dead, Long Live Harry Potter; Top Potter Town Gets Prize, Boy-Wizard Bragging Rights; Professor Trelawney Examines Her Tea Leaves; A Potter Post Mortem; A History of MagicHouse of Meetings by Martin Amis: A most anticipated book.In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar: The Booker shortlistKnots by Nuruddin Farah: A most anticipated book.Like You’d Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard: National Book Award FinalistOn Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: Booker shortlistThe Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: Booker shortlistRemainder by Tom McCarthy: Andrew’s reviewSavage Detectives by Roberto Bolano: A most anticipated book; Why Bolano MattersThen We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris: A most anticipated bookTree of Smoke by Denis Johnson: Garth’s reviewTwenty Grand by Rebecca Curtis: Emily’s reviewVarieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis: National Book Award FinalistWhat is the What by Dave Eggers: Garth’s review.The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon: Max’s review; Garth’s review.
A few months ago I read a story called “The Near-Son” in n+1. It engrossed me completely, right through to the punch-in-the-gut Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”-esque ending. The plotting, the pacing, and the narrator’s bizarre and fascinating affect (was she retarded – somehow not right in the head – or just distressingly honest?) were unlike anything I’d ever read.“The Near-Son” is now among the inhabitants of Rebecca Curtis’ first collection of short stories, Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money. It is a masterful first offering and very much a collection. All of the tales concern the want of love or money (often both) and all have in common narrators whose deadpan descriptions of the monstrous and disturbing are utterly transfixing. Curtis has a gift for the evocation of human cruelty, both a casual, thoughtless variety (“Summer, With Twins”) and a more deliberate strain (“The Sno-Kone Cart” and “Monsters”). Although I found all of the Twenty Grand tales more or less excruciating for the material and emotional scenes they depicted, I could not stop myself from devouring all thirteen in a few sittings. There is a stark, bleak, amoral atmosphere to Curtis’s tales that might, in lesser hands, have made them unreadable, but his is not the case. Ultimately, the lives and minds and souls she portrays – all narrowed or troublingly warped by friendlessness, exploitation, betrayal, and privation – make for an undeniable declaration of the horrific consequences of poverty, both emotional and material. These are beautifully constructed stories and they will stun you even as their content harrows.