Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: 20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker

20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
Edited by Deborah Treisman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010
431 pages
From my shelves

20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker

It would be impossible to give appropriate attention to each of the stories included in this collection. So instead of attempting the impossible, I'm going to recap a few of my favorite stories and my thoughts about the book as a whole.

Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presents a realistic and sympathetic picture of a young woman who never imagined she would become someone's mistress. As she notices a woman watching her at a stoplight, she fears it is the wife of her lover and thinks back on their relationship. Adichie has created a very relatable character - she reacts badly to being taken to secluded restaurants and to the way the driver snubs her. Her protagonist and her writing style are lovably prickly. We know that the relationship can only end badly, but she can't stay away from him and we can't stop reading about it.

There is a piece of Nell Freudberger's popular novel The Newlyweds that I found very well-written. I will be looking for the rest of the story. Amina meets an American man online and eventually moves to the US to become his wife. The dissonance between Amina's upbringing, where she is largely ignored or belittled by her family, and her new relationship with her husband is striking. I finished the piece wanting to learn more about Amina and George's new and unexpected relationship.

Dinaw Mengestu's An Honest Exit has much to do with the idea of storytelling. After our narrator misses class because of his father's death, he finds himself telling his students about his dad. He relates how his father escaped from the political strife of Ethopia to Sudan and eventually to London. In the telling (or re-imagining) of his father's story, he finds a sort of closure with the father he never felt he really knew.

As I read over the list of authors featured here, it was interesting to note how many of them have had popular and/or critically acclaimed books published within the past few years. Writers in this collection include Tea Obreht, Nicole Krauss, Karen Russell, and Jonathan Safran Foer. It was also fun to see that a few of the short stories became pieces of those very novels. I recognized Krauss' selection because I  read and enjoyed her novel Great House. 

Short story anthologies are intriguing to us because we hope to find new beloved authors. However, the problem becomes the sheer number of stories in a book. It's difficult to remember which story or author you really liked when you are twelve stories into the anthology.
Do you like reading short story anthologies?
Do you have a specific method for keeping track of which authors you admired?
Which authors have you discovered through short story collections? 


  1. I'm normally not a big fan of short stories. I think it's because I like diving into a tale for a longer time? But I have read a few that I liked quite a bit. (Astray by Emma Donahue for one)

    I read The Newlyweds and enjoyed it a lot!

    1. I like reading short stories - I just have a hard time keeping track of them! Maybe it's one of those situations where I should read with a notebook handy.

      It will be interesting to see if there are any differences between the short story and that section of the novel when I read The Newlyweds.