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.
- Nicole Krauss: “The Young Painters”
- Phillip Meyer: “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone”
- Dinaw Mengestu: “An Honest Exit”
- Karen Russell: “The Dredgeman’s Revelation”
- Daniel Alarcón: “Second Lives”
- ZZ Packer: “Dayward”
- Téa Obreht: “Blue Water Djinn”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Birdsong”
- David Bezmozgis: “The Train of Their Departure”
- C.E. Morgan: “Twins”
- Wells Tower: “The Landlord”
- Chris Adrian: “The Warm Fuzzies”
- Sarah Shun-lien Bynum: “The Erlking”
- Jonathan Safran Foer: “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly”
- Yiyun Li: “The Science of Flight”