At the end of September, the last of 2010’s “20 Under 40” piece of fiction was published in The New Yorker. I thought it might be a good idea to post a quick recap here on the main page to see if anyone has any thoughts on the experience of reading these relatively young authors each week since early June.

Some of you may have stopped reading these pieces due to the ho-hum first issue which featured eight stories, many of which were unremarkable. You’ll be heartened to know that I placed only one of those stories in my top tier, so it did get better. Also, I placed four of them in my bottom tier, so it didn’t get much worse.

All in all, I’m glad the magazine did this. Most of these were writers I’d heard of but had never read, and this gave me a chance to get to know them and to look into their back catalog. I have a few of their books lined up for my reading pleasure (I hope) over the next months and years. A few of them I can cross off my list of writers I want to follow — at least, unless something else comes along that convinces me otherwise. Judging these authors by these pieces is surely unfair and might lead me to missing out on something that would mean a lot to me; after all, I already really liked Chris Adrian, yet I put him in the Penultimate Tier below because “The Warm Fuzzies” just wasn’t that great of a story. Had I not already liked him, I probably wouldn’t bother reading any of his other work, which would be a real shame. Also, though I haven’t read any of Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s other work, I was interested enough in her that despite placing her story in my Penultimate Tier, I still went out and got her two novels.

Which brings up something I’ve been wondering about: what was the process for publishing these pieces of fiction? Sure, the magazine says that they considered authors who had something ready for publication, but what author, when approached by The New Yorker isn’t going to have something ready for publication, even if they have to write it that night? I wonder if the magazine read these pieces before they made the list of “20 Under 40.” Some of the selections lead me to doubt that. The pieces seemed rushed and / or, worse, sophomoric and clichéd — I’m really focusing on “An Arranged Marriage” here. Still, I think we got some excellent stories. I would recommend every story in my Top Tier as a supreme story, and the author is certainly someone I’m going to be following closely. Those in my Near-Top Tier are also great, even if I was perhaps a bit less interested in them. Once we get to my penultimate tier, I have more misgivings, but for the most part I still wouldn’t call the stories terrible. That is exactly what I would call my Bottom Tier, though. But, some people like them, so what do I know?

Anyway, below are my tiers. I have done nothing to rank the stories within each tier; they are each placed according to when I determined how they ranked against those in other tiers. If they were ranked in each tier, believe me that “An Arranged Marriage” would be the last story listed below. The links are to the forum where I share my initial thoughts and where others share their comments.

Top Tier:

Near-Top Tier:

Penultimate Tier:

Bottom Tier:

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By | 2016-06-20T18:01:09+00:00 October 6th, 2010|Categories: New Yorker Fiction|13 Comments


  1. Tony S. October 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Only three of these writers have I read, not the New Yorker story, but other books. My assessment of Gary Shtyengart and Jonathan Safran Foer was similar to yours, over-rated. Wells Tower I would put a little higher than penultimate.

  2. Tony S. October 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I forgot I also read Joshua Ferris who also wound up in my over-rated category.

  3. Lee Monks October 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I’ll put up a John Self-inspired ‘Twelve from the shelves’ type list at the end of the year for a bit of fun, shove it on Facebook and hopefully get a few friends interested. Relevance to this post being: Gary Shteyngart will be on it, no question, for Super Sad Love Story.

  4. Trevor October 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I couldn’t bring myself to read the Shteyngart book because of the selection that was published in this series. That said, I loved his trailer for the book. Did you see it? If not, link is in one of my comments in the forum link above (if the link is still active — I hope it is!).

  5. Joe October 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Like Trevor, I’ve heard many good things about Super Sad Love Story, but I haven’t been able to bear the thought of reading it because of the recent New Yorker piece, which really rubbed me the wrong way. Was that an except from the novel? (Given the timing, I’m assuming it was.)

  6. Lee Monks October 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I’ll check that trailer. I tend to warm to humorously clever writers and, if what they’re doing works, I can forgive a bit of smuggery or giddy verbosity – I think it’s a USophilic English thing – we don’t have writers with the chutzpah of Shteyngart and it’s invigorating. Sam Lipsyte, George Saunders, even Lydia Davis – our funny writers tend to be funny, if at all, in a very different manner that I’ve had my fill of for now.

  7. stujallen October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I ve not read many of this list ,have just finish Scibonas the end ,which I rated ,echos of early bellow and a touch of roth ,got berzozgis short collection on my tbr pile ,and have read 3 books by Adichie who I consider one of the best female writers currently writing and also one of Africa’s strongest voices a writer that evokes her homeland and expericnces of her countrymen in the us or uk so well ,all the best stu

  8. Shelley October 6, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    I confess that the first paragraphs of The New Yorker short stories all have exactly the same (usually baffled, clueless, or ennui-laden) tone to my ear.

    I could be wrong.

  9. Trevor October 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    A lot of people think the same way you do, Shelley, but I think it is a myth. Not only are there many varieties of short stories that The New Yorker publishes, but I don’t think they have the tones you mention.

    I’m having fun here, so indulge me please as I lay out some examples from this year:

    Nicole Krauss’s “The Young Painters”: “Four or five years after we got married, Your Honor, S. and I were invited to a dinner party at the home of a German dancer, who was then living in New York.” Perhaps not much there, but it’s not baffled, clueless, or ennui-laden. The inclusion of “Your Honor” makes it kind of fun for me.

    Sam Lipsyte’s “The Dungeon Master”: “The Dungeon Master has detention.” Short and fun.

    Chris Adrian’s “The Warm Fuzzies”: “Her parents always gave the new kids a tambourine and stuck them back with Molly, because it was easy to play the tambourine, though there were intricacies to it that nobody else understood or appreciated, and because she was nice, though she was actually only about half as nice as everyone supposed her to be.” Long and fun.

    Daniel Alarcon “Second Lives: “My parents, with admirable foresight, had their first child while they were on fellowships in the United States.” Tongue in cheek.

    Karen Russell’s “The Dredgeman’s Revelation: “The dredgeman had a name, Louis Thanksgiving Auschenbliss, but lately he preferred to think of himself as a profession.”

    Jeffrey Eugenides’s “Extreme Solitude” (I have to put a few sentences here, but they just roll into the really long third one): “It was debatable whether or not Madeleine had fallen in love with Leonard the first moment she’d seen him. She hadn’t even known him then, and so what she’d felt was only sexual attraction, not love. Even after they’d gone out for coffee, she couldn’t say that what she was feeling was anything more than infatuation. But ever since the night they went back to Leonard’s place after watching “Amarcord” and started fooling around, when Madeleine found that instead of being turned off by physical stuff, as she often was with boys, instead of putting up with that or trying to overlook it, she’d spent the entire night worrying that she was turning Leonard off, worrying that her body wasn’t good enough, or that her breath was bad from the Caesar salad she’d unwisely ordered at dinner; worrying, too, about having suggested they order Martinis because of the way Leonard had sarcastically said, “Sure. Martinis. Let’s pretend we’re Salinger characters”; after having had, as a consequence of all this anxiety, pretty much no sexual pleasure, despite the perfectly respectable session they’d put together, and after Leonard (like every guy) had immediately fallen asleep, leaving her to lie awake stroking his head and vaguely hoping that she wouldn’t get a yeast infection, Madeleine asked herself if the fact that she’d just spent the whole night worrying wasn’t, in fact, a surefire sign that she was falling in love.”

    Anyway, that was just a quick look at a few published this year, and that’s without going to Roberto Bolano’s filthy “The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura,” Janet Frame’s wonderful “Gavin Highly,” and E.O. Wilson’s ant fiction “Trailhead.” One couldn’t get more variety.

    In years past it has been much the same. In fact, last year, I felt, was better than this year.

    -We had two stories from George Saunders, who is absolutely hilarious and original (though the first lines are direct, they are also not particularly telling).

    -Two from David Foster Wallace (“Wiggle Room”: “Lane Dean, Jr., with his green rubber pinkie finger, sat at his Tingle table in his chalk’s row in the rotes group’s wiggle room and did two more returns, then another one, then flexed his buttocks and held to a count of ten and imagined a warm pretty beach with mellow surf, as instructed in orientation the previous month.”)

    -Chris Adrian’s beautiful fairy tale “A Tiny Feast”: Here we see the competition in a marriage (which happens to be 1000 years old) “It took them both a long time to understand that the boy was sick, though she would point out that she had been the first to notice that he was unhappy, and had sought to remedy his discontent with sweeter treats and more delightful distractions.”

    -J.G. Ballard’s great Kafka citation: “On waking one morning, B was surprised to see that Shepperton was deserted.”

    -Javier Marias’s horrifying “While the Women Are Sleeping”: For three weeks, I saw them every day, and now I don’t know what has become of them.” Okay, that’s baffled, but it’s also a decent start to a great story.

    Anyway, that’s a quick rundown. The New Yorker has also published the fantastic and very direct fiction of Maile Meloy. They championed Nabokov, Salinger, Singer, Gallant, and Muriel Spark. My trolling the archives this year has taken me from Christopher Isherwood’s strange time travel tale of 1939 to J.F. Powers’s tale about a religious cat published in 1950 to William Maxwell’s series of fairy tales published in the 1950s and 60s.

    The New Yorker doesn’t always please me, but I do think it’s a misconception to think The New Yorker publishes the same generic melanchoic suburban malaise short stories. It has never done that, from Dorothy Parker in the beginning and going to Alice Munro’s piece this week.

  10. […] The Mookse and the Gripes gives us the New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40 Recap. […]

  11. Whispering Gums October 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I read a few of the New Yorker stories but have only read one of these 20 so far. Am pleased it was one of your good-uns, An honest exit. It was deceptively simple but packed a bit of a punch didn’t it.

  12. Matt Rowan October 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Maybe I’ll sound like I have an ax to grind (I do and I don’t) but Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Here We Aren’t Again, So Quickly” is one of the worst stories I’ve read all year. Period.

  13. Matt Rowan October 15, 2010 at 11:04 am

    *”Here We Aren’t, So Quickly”

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