By Stuart Dybek
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374146443, 224pp.)
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
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A new collection of short stories by a master of the form with a common focus on the turmoils of romantic love
On command the firing squad aims at the man backed against a full-length mirror. The mirror once hung in a bedroom, but now it’s cracked and propped against a dumpster in an alley. The condemned man has refused the customary last cigarette but accepted as a hood the black slip that was carelessly tossed over a corner of the mirror’s frame. The slip still smells faintly of a familiar fragrance.
So begins “Tosca,” the first in this vivid collection of Stuart Dybek’s love stories. Operatically dramatic and intimately lyrical, grittily urban and impressionistically natural, the varied fictions in Paper Lantern all focus on the turmoil of love as only Dybek can portray it. An execution triggers the recollection of a theatrical romance; then a social worker falls for his own client; and lovers part as giddily, perhaps as hopelessly, as a kid trying to hang on to a boisterous kite. A flaming laboratory evokes a steamy midnight drive across terrain both familiar and strange, and an eerily ringing phone becomes the telltale signature of a dark betrayal. Each story is marked with contagious desire, spontaneous revelation, and, ultimately, resigned courage. As one woman whispers when she sets a notebook filled with her sketches drifting out to sea, “Someone will find you.”
Some of Dybek’s characters recur in these stories, while others appear only briefly. Throughout, they—and we—are confronted with vaguely familiar scents and images, reminiscent of love but strangely disconcerting, so that we might wonder whether we are looking in a mirror or down the barrel of a gun. “After the ragged discharge,” Dybek writes, “when the smoke has cleared, who will be left standing and who will be shattered into shards?” Paper Lantern brims with the intoxicating elixirs known to every love-struck, lovelorn heart, and it marks the magnificent return of one of America’s most important fiction writers at the height of his powers.
Stuart Dybek is the author of four other books of fiction, including Ecstatic Cahoots, published simultaneously with this volume, as well as two collections of poetry. The recipient of many prizes and awards—including the PEN/Malamud Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and four O. Henry Awards—he is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Florida Keys.
The stories in Stuart Dybek's latest collection concern themselves with strong feelings, and sometimes with crazed longings. Reviewer Meg Wolitzer finds them "a little alarming, a little wonderful." More at NPR.org
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"[Stuart Dybek] somehow manages to conjure up beautiful, detailed imitations of real America, and then infuse them with so much surreal truth that they read like myths or fairy tales. Like the Chicago he often writes about, his work is full of genuine sentiment, and edge, and beauty. One of the most soulful writers in American, and a national treasure." —George Saunders, Oprah Magazine"A modern master . . . Dybek is incapable of writing a dull page." —Clarence Brown, The Seattle Times"A true artist . . . Dybek summons up the wonder of the unexpected and the improbable, he achieves a low-key form of magical realism that places him in a constellation of writers that includes Joyce in ‘The Dubliners,’ Italo Calvino, Gabriel García Marquez and Chicago’s own Leon Forrest." —Donna Seaman, Chicago Tribune"There is a lyricism to [Stuart] Dybek’s writing, an eagerness to read metaphors and hidden meanings in the stuff of ordinary life." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times"The nine stories gathered here have appeared, scattered across two decades, in the most prestigious American outlets for short fiction; they make for a remarkably unified and consistent collection. . . . A very fine book from a gifted practitioner of the short story form." —Publisher's Weekly, starred review