Wednesday, 17 December 2008


BookFox's choices for best short story collections of 2008 include a number of books that were featured on The Roving Editor. It is especially gratifying to see Glen Pourciau's Invite on the list, as this a strong debut from one of the most interesting new writers to emerge this year.

Donald Ray Pollock has attracted more coverage than Glen, but he deserves all the praise he has received. The challenge for him now will be to produce a worthy follow-up to Knockemstiff. Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth are also excellent choices.

One story I managed to overlook on its appearance in the New Yorker in September was 'The Noble Truths of Suffering' by Aleksandar Hemon. Set in Sarajevo, this is a darkly funny exploration of the writing life which shows how creativity can find inspiration in the midst of death, destruction and domesticity. I am grateful to another of our featured authors, Joshua Ferris, who has named it as 'the best story of the year' in Granta's year-end round-up.

I would welcome nominations from readers of their favourite writers of short fiction in 2008, or for names we should be looking out for in 2009. Judging by the interest I have had in my post on Wells Tower, I fully expect him to feature prominently in next year's literary lists.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Amos Oz is an another of those eminent living writers whose work I have only just sampled for the first time.

'Waiting', in this week's New Yorker, is a profound and powerfully atmospheric tale. Set in an almost deserted Israeli village on a sleepy Friday afternoon, it reads like an existential ghost story. The ghost in question is Benny's Avni's wife Nava, who has disappeared leaving only a note that says, 'Don't worry about me.' (That's a hell of a note to leave. If Raymond Carver had written the story, that's probably what it would have been called.)

Benny, head of the District Council and pillar of the community, doesn't so much wait for Nava as embark on a journey in search of a woman he has never really known. All the while he is shadowed by a stray dog, which appears to be showing him the way:

'He asked himself, Would it not be better to go straight home? After all, she might have returned and was perhaps resting, puzzled by his absence, maybe even worried about him. But the thought of the empty house terrified him, and he went on, limping, following the dog, who never looked back, his muzzle lowered as if sniffing the way.'

I was reminded of the mundane, yet menacing terrain of John Cheever's 'The Swimmer'. In Oz's story, Benny's wanderings take him to a bomb shelter and the school where his wife teaches: 'The school’s metal gates were already locked for the Sabbath. Both the building and the playground were surrounded by an iron fence topped with barbed wire.'

I don't know if 'Waiting' is from a forthcoming collection, but there is at least one volume of Amos Oz's stories in print, which I look forward to investigating further.