I found myself reading a great deal of short fiction this year, preferring its brisk epiphanies to the slow satisfactions of long, intricately structured novels. The stories in Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine amplify a surprising new voice: gentle, even tender, but powerful. Siddharth Chaudhuri’s Day Scholar, on the other hand, has an earthy exuberance; it resurrects a genre—the carefully paced novella—that is strangely rare in Indian writing in English, and is perfectly suited for this account of a deeply unsentimental education.
I have long admired Yiyun Li’s fiction, which isn’t just bringing essential news from a country—China—we know little about. You are immediately beguiled by the delicacy of her perceptions, and her understated prose, which set up a sharp contrast to the often unbearably cruel realities she describes.
Deborah Eisenberg has published four collections over the last twenty-four years, a modest output compared to, say, William Trevor and Alice Munro. But then many of the short fictions in her Collected Stories have the satisfying fullness of novels; within a few pages she thriftily accommodates, using sharp, poetically exact sentences, a complete arc of individual experience against a broad and rich social backdrop.
Travel is one of Eisenberg’s themes; Americans abroad finding themselves deprived of familiar modes of reassurance, and exposed to painful truths about their place in the world.
Jennifer Egan is one of the most interesting and original writers in English today. Her fictions are preoccupied with the question of how so much of what we take for granted in modernity—everything from corporate work practices to mobile phones and PowerPoint presentations—has reshaped our sense of what it is to be human.
Egan’s new, formally adventurous novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, shows even more vividly how our selves, deprived of their old cohesiveness, cope with the experience of childhood, love, professional careers, illness, and death. Its thirteen chapters could be read as separate short stories; but, read together, their recurring characters moving in and out of each other’s lives across several decades create a wonderfully alive pageant.
I was pleased to get hold of an advance copy of Rahul Bhattacharya’s The Sly Company of People Who Care, which details in quick, cool prose the adventures of a young Indian in Guyana. Published next month, it is an astonishingly assured performance, awakening with its quirky landscapes and characters a Conradian sense of wonder about one of the world’s forgotten corners.