Granta Best of Young American Novelists
Well, this was a bit of a disappointment. When I read its British counterpart, I was actually excited about a few authors – and planning to read more of their work. Not this time though. While there were a few fragments I liked – and one that I really hated (couldn’t even make it through it all) – none of them interested me enough to look forward to more. I could put a little of the blame on the translation (although I didn’t find any fault with it per se) because it does dilute a bit of the original’s force. But perhaps it’s got more to do with me than anything else – I say I’ll only get the original version of books written in English, but I occasionally end up with translations and a lack of excitement I’m totally setting myself up for.
First thing I noticed (as opposed to the British version) was the lack of racial tension as a plot device (not 100% absent though – I think a couple of stories did draw from this source). And then I go and read Ian Jack’s introduction in which he states the exact opposite, so I’m a little confused as to what he saw (or whether he really read the whole thing). But, at least, I’m not alone in thinking this. Another general comment – most of these stories deal with small-scale events in the lives of regular people: death, birth, poverty, displacement, escape and most of them take place in a contemporary timeline. There are 4 exceptions: Olga Grushin’s piece (France, after the Bolshevik’s take over Russia – a classic story of nostalgia over times bound never to return), ZZ Packer’s Buffalo soldiers and Dara Horn’s Passover in New Orleans (both taking place at various times in the US history – the latter being quite engaging) and Karen Russell’s The barn at the end of our term (which imagines former US presidents returned to life as horses – an interesting concept which ended up being a bit dull in execution, if you ask me).
The book seeps sadness and uncertainty – which, I guess, is really the tone of a decade that started with 9/11 and ended with a full blow economic crisis.
So…what did I like? Anthony Doerr’s Procreate, Generate about a couple’s attempts to conceive had just about the right amount of bittersweet to it, Uzodinma Iweala’s Dance cadaverous (my definite favorite of the whole book) proved that Beasts of no nation wasn’t just a fluke and the guy is really worth looking out for, Nell Freudenberger’s Where East meets West (about a grandmother trying to accept her granddaughter’s Indian boyfriend – apparently a tribute to the author’s own grandma) and Akhil Sharma’s heartbreaking Mother and son. The fragment I didn’t finish was Gabe Hudson’s Hard Core – ex-marine stories are not my thing, neither as style nor as topic.
I don’t want to say that American writers are less than British ones – I don’t even think the Granta selection is necessarily representative. But, based on it, I feel that they’re heading towards the commonplace – both in style and themes. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of all those creative writing courses, but, at the end of the day, it makes for a pretty monotonous landscape. I really wonder how many (if any) of those featured in this book will have literary relevance in 10 or 20 years’ time.
(Full list of contents – here 😀 )