20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker edited by Deborah Treisman; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 431 pages ($16, paperback original). The business in young writers is always brisk. In our era, though, with television bequeathing dimwit demographic ageism to an entire country and technology in an advanced state of permanent metamorphosis, young writers are at a special premium. Everyone wants to point to the young writers crucial to their literary generation and therefore to the ones crucial to the continuation of literary fiction itself.
In 1999, the New Yorker -- ground zero for literary short fiction in America for over half a century -- published a "Future of American Fiction" issue featuring its idea of the next important literary generation: Michael Chabon, David Foster Wallace, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sherman Alexie, Edwidge Danticat, George Saunders, etc. In retrospect, its batting average was so high it looks as if every pitch was a fat, hanging curveball up the middle. Not so. It was hitting them out of the park.
In June 2010, the New Yorker returned to its enterprise of a decade before "naming 20 North American writers under the age of 40" who were, according to this volume's editor, Deborah Treisman, "standouts in the diverse and expansive panorama of contemporary fiction." And for the next 12 issues, the magazine printed them.
"What we were choosing," writes Treisman in the introduction here, was "the sharp social insights of Chimimanda Ngoza Adichie, Nell Freudenberger, Yihun Li, C.E. Morgan; Joshua Ferris, and Gary Shteyngart's wildly innovative comedies of errors; the nuanced ventriloquism of Chris Adrian, Karen Russell and Wells Tower; Daniel Alarcon's, David Bezmogi's, Dinaw Mengestu's and Z.Z. Packer's subtly plotted narratives of cultural change; Nicole Kraus,' Philipp Meyer's and Salvatore Scibonna's memorable meditations on loss and guilt; the poignant playfulness of Jonathan Safran Foer and Rivka Galchen; and the lush, dreamlike scenarios of Sarah Shunlei Bynum and Tea Obrecht." One volume, then, that hits it out of the park.
-- Jeff Simon