Also of interest ... in new story collections
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Little, Brown, $24)“Awe is the only appropriate response” to Uwem Akpan’s stunning debut collection, said Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. Each of its five stories is narrated by a child—“ordinary, flawed, sometimes funny kids who happen to be caught” in the political and social crises of contemporary Africa. A reader can quibble about the length of one tale about child slavery. But this book is “so ravishing” that “I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good.”
The Boat by Nam Le (Knopf, $23)Nam Le, another debut author, exhibits “an astonishing ability to channel the experiences of a multitude of characters,” said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. He bookends this collection with two stories about Vietnam—including a “masterpiece” about a young writer much like himself. But Le has range: He can write with equal “authority and poise” about an American woman visiting Tehran or an Australian drug-gang assassin preparing to confront a rival.
A Guitar and a Pen edited by Robert Hicks (Center Street, $24)You can’t blame novelist Robert Hicks for thinking that an anthology of stories by country songwriters could turn out to be “something special,” said Samantha Dunn in the Los Angeles Times. Janis Ian came through with a nice essay, but fiction efforts by the likes of Charlie Daniels and Kris Kristofferson generally just miss. Often, the stories “begin well, then meander.” They lack “the punch and verve” of polished literature.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, $26)David Sedaris didn’t become “the pre-eminent humorist of his generation by accident,” said Whitney Pastorek in Entertainment Weekly. As funny as his latest book is, though, it’s his “weakest collection to date.” True fans have already encountered most of these essays in The New Yorker or on NPR, and Sedaris “seems awfully close to exhausting his material.”
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin, $24)Cynthia Ozick’s “reputation as a formidable intellectual” shouldn’t intimidate you, said Chauncey Mabe in the Orlando Sentinel. Sure, the title novella in this collection concerns typists working for Joseph Conrad and Henry James. But all four stories “are first and foremost comic tales.”