Following George Saunders’s triumph at the inaugural Folio Prize, and strong new books from Ben Marcus and Lorrie Moore, the American short story’s vintage year continues with Rivka Galchen’s first collection, American Innovations (Fourth Estate, £14.99).
Like her compatriots, Galchen’s fiction bears the influence of the late Donald Barthelme, who argued that “not knowing” is vital to creativity. Time, identity and love are shown to be flexible if, as one character says, “our world obeys rules still alien to our imaginations”. Protagonists flounder in absurd, accelerating circumstances, struggling to comprehend events in more than abstract terms. Gently, Galchen interrogates the nature and necessity of innovation with results that prove hopeful, funny and innovative.
Kjell Askildsen’s Selected Stories (translated by Seán Kinsella, Dalkey Archive, £8.50) shows that there’s more to contemporary short fiction than America and more to Norway than Knausgaard and Nesbo. The octogenarian, who has been publishing in his own language for 60 years, offers stark portraits of male sexuality and familial dysfunction that are full of compelling strangeness. Lives surge through a few brittle pages, suppressed loves and resentments threaten to erupt. Characters are rarely isolated but their loneliness is palpable as they steal time in the shadows. Names recur throughout the book so the reader tries to connect people with events, but it’s the loose ends which draw you back to these taut dramas.