Guest blogger Rebecca Makkai on “Literary Mansplaining”

Rebecca Makkai 2013   The Hundred-Year House

Rebecca Makkai is the author of two novels, The Borrower (2011) and The Hundred-Year House (2014), as well as many short stories and essays. Her story “The Briefcase” has just been anthologized in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new high school literature textbook, Collections. She is a smart, observant, and sharp-witted woman, and it is reflected in her writing. (You can read my review of The Hundred-Year House here and my interview with her here.)

In this essay, she addresses an issue that continues to bedevil smart, accomplished women, especially writers. 

Few things have spoken to my soul like Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” the essay that indirectly gave rise to the term “mansplaining.”  And it’s no coincidence that Solnit’s key anecdote was about publishing – specifically, about a man not understanding that the seminal book he was lecturing her on was actually one Solnit herself had written. Although mansplaining exists just about everywhere, there seems to be something special about the writing world – maybe it’s that women are, you know, using their voices – that brings out the closet mansplainer. When women articulate issues within the publishing world, or issues they’re facing in their own careers, there’s always someone there to explain that this is not a real problem, or that the solution is oh-so-simple.

Of course #NotAllMen are mansplainers. Of the male writers and critics and bloggers I associate with, I’d put it at around 2%. But all it takes is one person peeing in the pool.

These are the varieties of literary mansplaining I see on a daily basis, both online and off:

“Let me tell you how the publishing industry works.” I get this one not from fellow writers, but – far worse – from acquaintances whose knowledge of publishing is limited to an article they read two years ago about Kindles. “You get a bigger percentage of sales from ebooks,” they say. “So you should be happy!” Or they’ll tell you about the one and only novel they’ve read in the past two years, and act shocked that you haven’t heard of it. “It’s very important! Read it and get back to me and tell me what you think.” And I’m always so grateful for this, because I have nothing in my to-read pile! I’m fresh out of ideas!

“Stop being surprised” / “What did you expect?” In which a woman says / posts / writes about something truly troublesome – unfair VIDA numbers, let’s say, or Amazon hijinks, or academic sexism, or a rat infestation at a writers’ colony — and a man eagerly jumps in to comment with something like “Yep. Get used to it. Them’s the breaks.” Which really adds nothing at all to the conversation, when you think about it. It’s simply a way of saying “Oh, yes, this issue? I’m five steps ahead of you on this issue. Ha-HA!”

 “Just lighten up / give up / grow a pair” A close cousin to the above, with the lovely addition of moral judgment against indignation. If the criticism had come from a man, it would be righteous anger, or thoughtful analysis, or warranted fury. From a woman, it’s irrational and shrill and must be stopped. (The giveaway here: the true mansplainer can only avoid use of the word “hysterical” for about twenty seconds, and/or three tweets. Hang in there long enough, and it’ll come out.)

“This wouldn’t be an issue for you if you would just…” …write more book reviews, write more nonfiction, write more commercial fiction, change your name to something more pronounceable, go with a smaller publisher, go with a bigger publisher, accept that critics are jerks, ignore the haters, ignore your editor, ignore your reviews, stop caring about your career, stop thinking about it too much. Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.

“Here is my writing advice, o world!” This is a subtler and more insidious one – an exercising of privilege that is surely invisible to the privileged. Certainly there are times (like, you’re hired to speak to a conference) when an audience is waiting with bated breath for your wisdom. But shouting out, unbidden, on social media, your lesson of the day (“Here’s a little craft tidbit for you, folks…”) – I don’t know how to explain that it’s a manifestation of gender privilege except to say that I see men do this on a daily basis, and I’ve never, ever seen a woman do it. And come to think of it, I’ve only ever seen white men do it. Straight white men. Hmm… (1% of them, at most. But boy howdy are they loud.)

“Despite never having read your work, I’m going to assume that whatever issues you’re facing in the publishing world are due to the fact that you must be writing ‘domestic fiction,’ which – hey! – should certainly be given its due! I read an Alice Munro story once, and I loved it!” Sure you did. Also, define “domestic fiction.” Fiction with a house in it? So you mean, like, The Corrections? No?

“Let me explain how much I’ve done for you, female writer.” This can range anywhere from the benign but egocentric (“I’m so glad I wrote that one review of Alice Munro for the Winnipeg Free Press during the Reagan Administration, because look where my patronage has gotten her!”) to the deeply disturbing (see: the recent saga of Ed Champion). Toward that more disturbing end, there are some male bloggers and critics out there who seem to see praising women writers as the equivalent of buying your date a fancy dinner in 1962. In both cases, they seem to expect something afterwards. Eternal gratitude? Instant acceptance? Love? Sex? It’s hard to tell. And in cases like Champion’s, if perceived “favors” are not returned, the critic turns vicious.

“Your experience is false.” There is no male privilege in literature, there is no white privilege in literature, Martin Amis is not a sexist, Phillip Roth is not a sexist, 9/1 is a reasonable breakdown for the National Book Award nonfiction long list. You are imagining sexism, because I do not believe myself to be a sexist.

“Ah,” someone out there says, “that’s right. I remember reading about this in a magazine. When women complain, they don’t really want their problems solved. They just want to vent. They want someone to listen to them.”

No, asshat. We would love the problems solved. All the problems. It’s just that unless you’re my editor or my agent or my department chair, you’re not the one who’s going to solve them. You aren’t saying anything we haven’t already thought of. No one, male or female, wants someone to come in and pat them on the head and tell them the solution is actually very simple, and the solution is to stop worrying about it. Would you do that to a male colleague? Would you – on the roughest days of your life – want someone doing that to you? The difference between the sexes here isn’t that women want shoulders to cry on. It’s that only women have to put up with people handing them facile and belittling solutions (that aren’t really solutions) to their problems.

So… What to do? If you’re a woman, you already know your choices. Keep your head down and ignore it, or stick your neck out and fight it.

If you’re a man, a regular, fabulous man, keep being awesome. But if you think you might be guilty of mansplaining: Ask yourself, honestly, if this is what you’d say to another guy. If you’d accuse him of hysterics, if you’d attempt to explain the world to him, if you’d assume that because you praised his book once, he must owe you undying gratitude. Or if you’d think that his problems must not really be problems, or feel so proud of yourself for offering the most reductionist solution.

And if you still can’t help it, try to use your mansplaining powers for good, rather than evil. Best Buy is always hiring.

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2014 Flannery O’Connor Award winner’s FAULTY PREDICTIONS is guaranteed to please story lovers (I predict!)

Faulty Predictions   karin lin-greenberg sienaedu

Faulty Predictions

Karin Lin-Greenberg

University of Georgia Press: Sept. 2014

172 pages, $25.00

 

This collection of ten short stories announces the arrival of a talented young writer with a distinctive narrative voice. Karin Lin-Greenberg, a professor at Siena College in New York, won the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and it’s easy to see why. She is a gifted storyteller. (Previous winners include Amina Gautier, Ha Jin, Antonya Nelson, Rita Ciresi, Mary Hood, and Bill Roorbach, so the judges have a good track record for finding talent.)

Unlike so many story collections today, which tend to the dark and cryptic, Faulty Predictions pulses with a bemused energy. Lin-Greenberg’s stories examine the foibles of a wide range of characters. A group of high school journalism students is confronted by an injustice (“Editorial Decisions”); a glib TV talk show host goes to drastic lengths to connect with his college freshman son (“Late Night with Brad Mack”); two Chinese-American mothers are rivals for power in their close-knit community (“Prized Possessions”).

In the title story, two elderly women housemates are on a mission to stop a murder at a Halloween party on a college campus, with unexpectedly poignant results.  “The Local Scrooge” concerns a curmudgeonly college professor who proves to have a soft spot for babies, something he wants to keep secret in order to maintain his reputation, but in the age of social media that proves difficult. In “Miller Duskman’s Mistakes,” the title character is a big city businessman who opens a sophisticated coffee shop (with a floor-to-ceiling glass facade!) in a small northern college town, engendering the resentment of the determinedly unimpressed locals. A variety of complications results ensue. But perhaps the locals have misjudged him.

In these ten stories, Lin-Greenberg displays impressive insight into human nature and empathy for regular people trying to make sense of their lives and circumstances. She also possesses a nicely dry wit and a gift for realistic dialogue that pops off the page. Remember her name; she is a young writer worth watching.

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Australian publisher, literary prize director: More men need to read books by women

Aviva Tuffield

ReadWomen2014 shared an essay today on Facebook by Aviva Tuffield, the executive director of the new Stella Prize, which celebrates writing by Australian women. She wrote it for Daily Life, one of several lifestyle websites affiliated with the Sydney Morning-Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers.

It’s well worth a few minutes of your time to get another perspective on the issue of why men won’t read books by women (it starts early) and what can be done to remedy this problem.

Full link: http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-culture/more-men-need-to-read-books-written-by-women-20140923-3ge91.html

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Guest blogger Anne Korkeakivi: My Summer Without Men (Writers)

Anne Korkeakivi

Anne Korkeakivi is the author of An Unexpected Guest (Little, Brown, 2012) (you can read my review here). An American raised and educated in New York and Massachusetts, she now lives and writes in Geneva, where her husband is a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Anne earned a BA in Classics from Bowdoin College and an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her stories have been published in The Atlantic, The Yale Review, Consequence magazine, and the Bellevue Literary Review. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times (UK), Travel & Leisure, Ms., The Millions, and many additional periodicals in the US, the UK, and online. (My interview with Anne from 2013 can be found here.) 

 

This summer, I hit the road.

Needing to fit my essentials into one manageable suitcase, I was compelled to leave behind something valuable to me. Something that could wait until my return, but I thought of and missed often. Not a draft of my next novel — although I did leave that behind also. My reading diary.

Some writers keep a writing journal. I keep a reading journal, in which I jot down a mini-synopsis of each book I read and what I loved and/or didn’t love about it. These entries are short, just a few sentences total. Very occasionally a book will also get a little star. Very very occasionally a book will earn extra space for direct quotations, but capturing quotables is not the intention of my journal.

These journals are for me alone, a private way to explore writing. They serve both as memory and an exploration of the craft that impassions me, and I guard them as closely as Harriet the Spy should have guarded her diary. Their terseness keeps the contents candid. But having to capsulize my thoughts into just a few words, I am forced to think as clearly as possible about writing. What worked for me in this book? Why did it work? Why didn’t it? Sometimes my assessments reinforce well-laid ground. Sometimes I make discoveries.

When I sat down in my office on September 1st, freshly returned from my travels, I had fourteen books to record. All but three of the books, I realized as I began to note them down in my journal, were written by women.

I choose what I read for a variety of reasons and rarely are these reasons related to an author’s gender. I feel a bit guilty about this; as a woman writer of literary fiction, I am well aware of the discussion around literary gender inequality as documented by VIDA. But the truth is I’m gender-blind when I decide what to read and also while I read. I had noticed I was reading, due to my travels, an unusual percentage of contemporary American titles—books picked up at readings in NYC, passed to me by fellow travelers, etc. I knew, of course, the name (and, had I thought about it, gender) of each book’s author. But it never struck me I was reading almost exclusively work by women.

This got me thinking. Is there any reason why I should have been aware of the authors’ genders? By this I don’t mean whether, as a woman writer, I have a responsibility to read more or mostly female authors. That’s a whole other discussion. I mean was there anything running through these books that should have made me notice most of them were written by women?

Let’s play a game. I’m going to give a one-line synopsis of each of the fourteen books. (Answers at the end.) You try to guess which three were written by men.

  1. A young man discovers an ex-girlfriend gave birth to his child, leading him into a downward spiral in a world of criminals.
  2. Four siblings become freedom fighters against dictatorship; three are assassinated, one lives to tell the tale (nb: not a spoiler – the reader knows from the start).
  3. A young painter is trapped between fidelity to family or to a life in art.
  4. During a wild storm, a dying man and his wife go missing.
  5. The men in three generations of a family struggle after their experiences fighting in three different wars.
  6. The golden child of a multi-cultural family falls victim to the parents’ psychological fixations.
  7. After a manipulative single parent goes to prison for murder, a young kid is left to navigate adolescence alone, bouncing through foster homes.
  8. A young woman has to choose between two very different young men, as they all confront adulthood.
  9. A highly physical memoir of an author’s life, starting with childhood.
  10. A man and boy arrive in a new land together and search for the child’s missing mother.
  11. A memoir about an author’s first job in the publishing world.
  12. A feckless middle-aged man finds unexpected fulfillment after his brother goes to prison and his wife dumps him.
  13. A man sets fire to a beachfront house then tells his life story to an equally forlorn woman who stumbles upon him.
  14. A chance meeting between three boys brings disparate families together through the passage to adulthood, sex, and the violence of war.

Have you made your guesses? If you chose #1, #5, and #9… you’d be wrong.

If you chose #4, #7, and #14, you’d be also wrong.

If, however, you chose #8, #9, and #10, you’d be right. (And, if you recognized all or some of the books and made your guesses that way, you are disqualified.)

Perhaps more importantly, what criteria came to mind for guessing which book was written by a woman and which written by a man?

Here’s another thing my little journal brought to light: What a non-event my summer (mostly) without male authors was. Some books I liked more than others; a few I loved. They were all simply books.

Here are the books I read, with apologies to the authors and their supporters for the over-simplified renderings of their works — obviously all these books were about much more than could be put in one neutered sentence. Also, the five novels “in a row” I mentioned in an earlier blog post were before any on this list: 1. The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel; 2. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez; 3. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara; 4. On Fog Mountain by Michelle Bailat-Jones; 5. After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld; 6. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; 7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch; 8. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides; 9. Winter Journal by Paul Auster; 10. The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee; 11. My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff; 12. May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes; 13. Sur le Sable by Michèle Lesbre; 14. The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

 

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Tour de Blog stops at Read Her Like an Open Book

A few days ago, author and blogger extraordinaire Caroline Leavitt invited me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour (having been named by fellow author Bill Roorbach).

Caroline is the author of several novels, including the New York Times bestsellers, Is This Tomorrow (2013) and Pictures of You (2011), which was a Costco “Pennie’s Pick.” If you haven’t read any of her books yet, you should remedy that as soon as possible. Here’s my review of Is This Tomorrow, from July 28, 2013. Leavitt also recently published a mini-ebook with SheBooks, The Wrong Sister, featuring the title story and “The Last Vacation.”

Leavitt is also a writing teacher,  editor, manuscript consultant, book critic, screenwriter, and mother to a talented young acting student. On top of all that, she has been a good friend and major supporter of this blog.

You can enjoy Leavitt’s distinctive wit and wisdom (mixed with a dollop of Hoboken, New Jersey neurosis) on her blog, CarolineLeavittville at http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/.

1. What are you working on? 

I am always reading at least two novels, and I write reviews for my blog once or twice a week. And I’m usually working on lesson plans and/or grading for my high school English classes. My other hobby is portrait photography; at the moment I am taking some senior portraits and working on a few other projects.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My blog is unique (to my knowledge), as it is the only one dedicated to literary fiction by women that is written by a man (I know of at least one such blog published by a woman). My purpose is to demonstrate that men can read and enjoy novels and stories by women, that they are not all romance or mystery or other “genre” novels. I reviewed several novels and story collections about the wars in the Middle East written by women partly to drive home that point. (See my reviews of Flashes of War by Katey Schultz, Sand Queen by Helen Benedict, Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman, Stop Here by Beverly Gologorsky, and You Can Tell When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon.)

3. Why do you write what you do?

In the summer of 2013 I began to come across essays on gender bias in the publishing world. This bias was present in what books are published, the cover design and marketing of books by women, which books are reviewed by major publications, and which reviewers are selected to write about those books, as well as the fact that men virtually never read books by women (although women will read books by men).

I realized that 25-50% of the novels I read were by women and that it had never occurred to me that I “shouldn’t” read books by women or that doing so was unusual. I investigated and concluded that a blog in which a man read and wrote exclusively about fiction by women did not exist. My intention was to fill that void and make a small contribution toward balancing this gender bias.

Since June 2013, I have read books by women almost exclusively. (I have read perhaps five books by men in that time.) I doubt that there are many men out there who have read more fiction by women in the last 15 months.

4. How does your writing process work?

As I read, I use Post-It flags and take notes. After I finish a book, I let it percolate for a few days to see how it speaks to me and what is worth discussing in a review. I write a relatively fast first draft and then revise it from one to three times in an attempt to ensure that it reflects my thoughts and feelings and is well-written. Then I cast my fate to the wind and hit “publish.”

For the next stop on the blog tour, I nominate Beth Kephart, another thought-provoking writer of novels and nonfiction, as well as a blogger with a unique and impassioned voice. Her blog, Beth Kephart Books, features essays on the personal and the political, as well as the literary. She is the author of the YA novel Going Over (2014), which was the Gold Medal Winner in Historical Fiction at the Parents’ Choice Awards, an ABA Best Books for Children & Teens, and a YALSA BFYA selection, among many other honors. She is also the author of Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (2013), which was named a Best Book for Writers by Poets & Writers. Most recently, she published a short memoir, Nest. Flight. Sky. On love and loss, one wing at a time (available from SheBooks). I recommend her blog to you enthusiastically.

 

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THE UNAMERICANS: Molly Antopol’s debut collection is my choice for the National Book Award

The UnAmericans   Molly Antopol 1

The UnAmericans

By Molly Antopol

W.W. Norton: Feb. 4, 2014

272 pages, $24.95

In recognition of Molly Antopol being named to the longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction, I am re-running my review of The UnAmericans, originally posted on Feb. 8, 2014. 

It has become increasingly common for reviewers and lovers of short stories to compare an exceptional story writer’s work to that of Alice Munro, the short story master who won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature (just as Munro was often compared to Chekhov). Often the comparison is unwarranted, either because of differences in style or subject matter or, frankly, because few writers are in Munro’s class.

But if any writer’s work justifies comparisons to Munro, it is Molly Antopol, whose debut collection, The UnAmericans, was published on February 4 by Norton. Each of the eight stories is a powerful, novelistic work that manages to encompass a character’s entire life through the use of representative experiences and telling details — as is the case with Munro’s work. Though the stories vary widely in terms of characters and settings, they share the ability to pull the reader in like a riptide and carry you away before you realize it. As I read The UnAmericans, it soon became clear why Antopol was selected by the National Book Foundation as a “5 Under 35 Author” last November (along with well-regarded young writers Amanda Coplin and NoViolet Bulawayo, among others).

The title of the book refers to the fact that the characters in Antopol’s stories are Communists from the first half of the 20th century, dissidents from Russia or Eastern Europe, or non-Americans like the Israeli characters in “A Difficult Phase” and the heartbreaking closing story, “Retrospective.” More broadly, it refers to people who are, in fact, Americans, but are viewed as “un-American” in their beliefs, behavior, or sub-culture by the mainstream culture.

Her stories display an impressive insight into the psyches of the various damaged characters, all of whom are trying to find their place in their own family, culture, or time. The stories take place against a backdrop of significant events, whether World War II, the Communist witch hunt of the 1950s, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, or the tectonic social and economic shifts in the former Communist bloc countries.

Each story pulled me in almost immediately and held me in thrall to the last word. I was intrigued by the characters, settings, and conflicts and wanted to know how these people would find their way to some kind of contentment. Her narrative control never faltered; despite this being her first collection of stories, I felt I was in the hands of a master. I am particularly allergic to clunky sentences, cliched imagery, and wooden dialogue. I did not find a single example of any of these common writing afflictions. These rare traits are what reminded me of the stories of Alice Munro: complete control, flawless writing, and realistic characters fighting for their emotional or psychological lives.

In “The Old World,” divorced dry cleaner Howard Siegel falls for a slightly younger and very voluptuous Ukrainian immigrant named Sveta, to the consternation of his daughter and her husband, who have recently become Orthodox Jews. Sveta is, in part, impressed by the fact that Howard’s “people” also came from Kiev. “Our people?” he thinks. “My people were from Ditmas Avenue. My people had left Ukraine before the Cossacks could impregnate their wives.” His relationship with Sveta leads them back to Kiev, where events take a surprising turn. But Howard discovers something he wasn’t expecting or even interested in, and a glimmer of hope prevails.

Another of my favorites, “Minor Heroics,” concerns two Israeli brothers who live with their mother on a moshav, a cooperative agricultural community similar to a kibbutz. The older brother, Asaaf, has just been discharged from the Israel Defense Forces after being stationed in Hebron. The younger brother, Oren, is a driver in the IDF, which he admits is “perhaps the least essential job in the Israel Defense Forces.” An accident on the farm changes the lives of the family and Asaaf’s relationship with his girlfriend, Yael. Oren has always played second fiddle to the charismatic Asaaf, but the accident shifts the ground beneath their feet, and the story depicts the characters’ efforts to find solid ground again. As in “The Old World” and life in general, things do not turn out quite as anyone had planned. Antopol’s sympathetic understanding of these two very different young men and their sibling rivalry produces a narrative tension in which we hope things will turn out well, yet fear (and suspect) they will not.

“The Quietest Man” tells of a father who is preoccupied by his daughter’s sale of her play, which he believes portrays him in an unflattering light. How can he persuade her to rewrite the character? Is he just paranoid? Neurotic? Antopol uses this fraught circumstance to examine the father-daughter relationship, in which both operate under misconceptions about the other’s character. Again, the protagonist discovers that all is not as it seems; life and the people in it are not so predictable after all. How often we fail to understand even those to whom we are closest.

“Duck and Cover,” set during the years of the Eisenhower administration, follows the coming of age of a young girl who has grown up in a family of Communist Party members in Los Angeles. Her father is an active member and all their family friends are members of “the Party.” This milieu is simply the air she breathes, and she has never questioned it — until now.

“And then the question that’s been knocking around inside me for years comes tumbling out: ‘Do you ever think it isn’t worth it?’

“‘What?’

“We’ve been talking so openly, but suddenly even saying the question feels too risky, as if someone might really be listening. ‘You know,’ I say. ‘Have you ever thought, for just a second, of giving all this up and being — like everybody else?’

“‘We are like everybody else,’ my father says quickly. ‘Everyone who matters.’”

“For a moment he doesn’t say anything. ‘You have to understand,’ he says. ‘The Party was our life, your mother’s and mine. And after she died, the idea of getting out of bed and making coffee and going on with my day seemed … impossible. But everyone, they stepped in. The Party women caring for you, Lou and Alan coming by every single day, taking you to school, to the park on weekends. Everybody, all of them, they helped you with your homework, they taught you to read. I couldn’t do any of that myself.’ He takes a slow sip of beer. ‘You can’t question the Party,’ he says. ‘The moment you do — you fall apart.’”

“… All at once I feel his pain, his life, lean against my heart.”

“A Difficult Phase” follows a young Israeli journalist, Talia, who is looking for work after having returned from a job in Kiev, but instead finds herself in a relationship with an older widower with a sullen teenage daughter. On their first date, Tomer opens up too soon and with too much intensity, revealing, among other things, that he is in therapy and that his daughter, Gali, was going through a “‘very understandably difficult phase.’”

“She realized she was enjoying herself. That she hadn’t, if she was going to be completely honest, had such a good time in months. Getting Tomer to sidestep the terrible first-date small talk and move straight to the core of things was making Talia feel, for the first time since she’d lost her job, like a journalist.”

“‘I’m sorry,’ Tomer said, reaching for the check. ‘You’re the first person I’ve been to dinner with and I probably shouldn’t be let out of the house.’”

“And though Talia knew he was right, and though she knew there probably wasn’t a man less ready to date in all of Tel Aviv, possibly the entire Middle East, somehow that was making him all the more appealing.”

This is what I love about Antopol’s writing: her characters are real people, experiencing life the way it actually happens, full of unexpected turns in the road that take you places you never thought of going, but at which you find yourself glad to have arrived. Gali is not the only character going through “a difficult phase.” So are Talia and Tomer, so are we all, and the phase may be one’s entire life, which is often difficult.

I was so impressed by The UnAmericans that I read it twice, something I almost never do. I have no doubt it will be at the top of my list of the Best Books of 2014 in December. If you like short stories at all, I exhort you to read this book. Molly Antopol may be new to you and me, but she worked on these stories for 10 years while completing her MFA at Columbia University, serving as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and teaching creative writing in Stanford’s English department. In her first collection, she is already a writer to be reckoned with.

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National Book Awards fiction longlist includes Antopol, St. John Mandel, three more women

The UnAmericans   Molly Antopol

StationElevenNorthAmericaHiRes   Emily St. John Mandel by Dese'Rae L. Stage

The National Book Foundation announced the longlist of 10 nominees for the 2014 Fiction award today. Unlike the controversial list of nonfiction nominees released yesterday (nine men and one woman, with no memoirs or essay collections), the fiction list is an impressive group, divided equally between men and women.

Much-admired and often-awarded writers Jane Smiley (Some Luck, due Oct. 7) and Marilynne Robinson (Lila, also due Oct. 7) lead the list, which also includes well-regarded writers Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven), Anthony Doerr (All The Light We Cannot See), Elizabeth McCracken (Thunderstruck and Other Stories), Richard Powers (Orfeo), and Rabbih Alameddine (An Unnecessary Woman).

The fiction committee also nominated debut story collections by Molly Antopol (The UnAmericans) and Phil Klay (Deployment), and the first novel by Mountain Goats lead singer John Darnielle (Wolf in White Van).

Read my reviews of The UnAmericans here and Station Eleven here.

Reviews of Some Luck and Lila are forthcoming.

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