Wellington arts festival dude and former book pages editor guy Guy Somerset chooses short story collections by Joy Williams, Lucia Berlin, and the king of the asterixes, Bill Manhire.
This year, via new collections of their stories, I discovered two wonderful American writers who had somehow escaped my attention entirely during the past 35 years of my reading life, which goes to show something, and not just about my own negligence. Joy Williams, whose short fiction is definitively gathered in The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (Knopf), is very much alive and still working, as testified to by this New York Times profile celebrating her “misanthropic genius”. She’s also a considerable novelist, and I’ve now embarked on tracking down her novels in second-hand bookstores, my first success being Breaking and Entering (1988).
Lucia Berlin died in 2004 and is only now receiving the wider attention she deserves, via the acclaim rightly heaped upon A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories (Picador), beginning with its foreword by Lydia Davis. Writing from the past dominated my reading year elsewhere, too, including the inevitable post -#ferrantefever reissues of the Italian novelist’s pre-Neapolitan Quartet, more purely poisonous books Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter, and, above all, The Days of Abandonment (all published by Text).
And finally, for those of us who weren’t here (in New Zealand, in my case) to enjoy them first time around, there was The Stories of Bill Manhire (VUP).
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.