Almost fifty years after publishing the landmark collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, William H. Gass returns to short fiction with Eyes (Knopf, $26), his follow-up to Middle C, recent recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ William Dean Howells Medal for most distinguished American novel of the past five years. In Eyes Gass returns to storytelling with his old word-drunk power, and the collection features not only some of his most beautiful work, but a cautious optimism that has often been in short supply for this writer. As delightfully fanciful as the four concluding short stories are—in which Gass gives voice to a piano, a chair, and a boy’s box of toys—the collection earns its place on your crowded shelf with its two opening novellas alone. “In Camera” relates the life and death of a photographic print shop, seen from the off-kilter perspective of its proprietor’s Igor-like assistant. “Charity” refracts its title through its protagonist’s short lifetime of experiences, seeing charity as much in a lover’s embrace as in a canned food drive. Few writers can match Gass for richness of prose, and here we have some of his most poignant material—stories that see language and art as eyes that create the physical world around us.
A woman visits a zoo and feels “caged by the shut cages.” A girl considers her “daydreaming sharp as a crime.” And as a matriarch turns eighty-nine, her son cuts the cake “as though the first shovelful of dirt had been dug.” Welcome to the startling, kaleidoscopic, and thoroughly mesmerizing world of Clarice Lispector, where more than a “superficial attention” can break something. The Complete Stories (New Directions, $28.95) offers eighty-five unique “state[s] of feeling” as Lispector views life from deep within the passions of women, men, girls, boys, and even a chicken. There’s no such thing as a truly objective, omniscient narrator here; even in the stories related in the third person, the perspective is firmly grounded in one psyche—the nearest we come to an outside view is seeing how social rules and conventions exert pressure on individual subjectivities. Often uncertain how they should behave, what they should want, what they dare express, these characters parse their every emotion and physical sensation. From the Proustian anatomy of waking in the early “The Triumph,” through the diligent wives who, “having no other resources…[are] reduced to profundity,” to the woman out to ruin the reputation of God, Lispector’s charged prose delivers frissons of the surreal while never losing track of the real, conveying, often with a startling humor, the full “danger of living.”
It’s always a treat when Simon Van Booy comes out with a new book. One of the most evocative and charming writers today, Van Booy made his name with his short stories and became an indie bookseller favorite. His latest collection of stories, Tales of Accidental Genius still shows him in fine form. Van Booy’s trademark is creating characters with deep empathy and haunting pathos, winding them around each other in remarkable encounters and relationships, such as the elderly man and young pet store clerk who bond over a goldfish; the Chinese director who decides to start his career all over again with a new, profoundly raw story to tell; and a fashion designer who has a chance encounter with a playwright that unwinds in a deep, though fleeting, connection. To read Van Booy is to sink into a warm window seat with frosted-over panes as an evening snow softly falls outside. His stories are lovely, powerful and startling in their poignancy. This book is the perfect gift for anyone who adores beautiful, spare prose and stunning, secret glimpses into people’s lives as they gently collide.