Raaskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia

14Jan10

Intimidated by Russian novels that have over a thousand pages, and afraid the translation might include five guys named Nikolai? As a new review suggests, the great names in Russian literature do indeed cast a long shadow, though Raaskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia, reviewed here, presents 21st century short fiction, allowing for a fresh approach.

Elsewhere, the new Alice Munro collection Too Much Happiness gets a thoughtful review that begins this way:

“The novelist Benjamin Cheever once brilliantly summed up New Yorker fiction as the kind of story where nothing much happens, but you feel a little sad about it anyway.”

At the same time, there’s a fine line between a story that’s subtle, and a story that’s just plain boring. Munro is an expert, but it’s an underrated and difficult form.

My favourite short story is The Bishop (by Chekhov, just to return to Russian literature for a second), which is not only a portrait of a life, it’s humbling for illustrating how many of us are forgotten in a few short generations. And while that’s obviously quite sad, I’ve rarely read a more potent reminder to appreciate my time on this little planet. It’s available in Forty Stories, which is a beautiful book, and a good collection.

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