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Beautiful Days: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates, ECCO/HarperCollins Publishers, US $26.99, Pp 352, February 2018, ISBN 978-0062795786

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill, Algonquin Books, US $24.95, Pp 288, February 2018, ISBN 978-1616207977

Heads of the Colored People:  Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires,  Atria / 37 INK, US $23.00, Pp 212, April 2018, ISBN 978-1501167997

Guardian Angels and Other Monsters by Daniel H. Wilson, Vintage Books, US $16.00, Pp 304, March 2018, ISBN 978-1101972014

Beautiful Days is a collection of eleven amazing stories. In Fleuve Bleu, lovers married to other persons establish an extremely honest authenticity they missed elsewhere and get unexpected results. In Big Burnt, a cunning and manipulative professor exploits a trusting woman who didn’t expect that from the professor. Les beaux jours revolves around a “master” and his adoring young female model who are involved in an intensely erotic, exploitative relationship. Undocumented Alien is a tragic story of a young African student enrolled in an American university who is suddenly stripped of his student visa and forced to undergo a terrifying test of courage. In another race-focused story, Except You Bless Me, a white adjunct composition instructor alleges with any evidence that a black student has been sending her hate mail. David Barthelme Saved from Oblivion is about the children who lead an alcoholic writer away from his favorite liquor store while, in Fractal, a boy is separated from his mother as they tour a fractal museum, both physically and emotionally. In these short stories, Joyce Carol Oates explores social, psychological and moral aspects of human relationships. She shows how we behave depends on social, psychological and moral forces governing us at a particular time or period of time. These stories are focused on gender, race, and complexities of human relationships. Some stories focus on human failures. Her characters yearn for freedom and are ready to defy social norms. You would enjoy these stories if you love good short fiction.

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

*****

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories is a collection of eight attention-grabbing short stories and one novella. In Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch, after her husband’s death, Mrs. Sorensen’s long-dormant love with an unsuitable mate reawakens. This dismays her neighbors. In Elegy to Gabrielle, Gabrielle is the patron saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves. Gabrielle defies by freeing the slaves. In Open the Door and the Light Pours Through, a grieving young man struggles with his sexuality in order to have letters with his faraway beloved. Dreadful Young Ladies is about the strength and power of the imagination. The Insect and the Astronomer redefines good and bad, knowledge and ignorance, love and longing. The novella The Unlicensed Magician is the story of Sparrow, a young woman, who struggles to bring prosperity to her small town in spite of the murderous dictator. It also introduces the secret and magical life of an invisible girl who was once thought dead. Her characters, mostly female, are rebellious and show extraordinary ability to defy and resist. Kelly Barnhill is known for writing beautiful and lyrical language and she is at her best in Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories. These stories are about bold fantasy mingled with human feelings of love, jealousy, and hope. Saying these stories are captivating is understating their mesmerizing qualities.

Kelly Barnhill is the author of four novels, most recently The Girl Who Drank the Moon, winner of the 2017 John Newbery Medal. She is also the winner of the World Fantasy Award and the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award, the SFWA Andre Norton Award, and the PEN/USA literary prize. Kelly Barnhill lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children.

*****

In her debut collection of short fiction Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires explores the concept of black identity by focusing on the members of the black community who rarely get attention. In Whisper to a Scream, the focus is on a maker of YouTube videos, in The Subject of Consumption, fruitarians are at the center stage, and This Todd is about the differently abled people and women who still love them. In one story two mothers exchange venomously hateful remarks through notes in their children’s backpacks, in another story, a young girl contemplates how best to notify her Facebook friends of her plans to commit suicide. Some of the themes are tragic, as in one story, a new mother and funeral singer is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who were victim of gun violence and, in yet another one she focuses on a teen from upper middle class who finds it difficult to fully connect with black culture. There is some kind of tension among the black people when they grapple with questions of race and identity politics and several stories fully capture that. A good example is that of Fatima who learns to accept her blackness from an Albino girl named Violet, which leads her to have her first white boyfriend. These stories are original and inspiring. They are equally darkly funny and satirical. Nafissa Thompson-Spires shows that the black body is vulnerable in more than one sense. There are no easy answers and solutions to the issues she raises. Nafissa Thompson-Spires is a new inspiring voice in literature. If you are looking for serious and good literature this spring, Heads of the Colored People is what you should be reading.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned a doctorate in English from ­­­­Vanderbilt University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from ­­­­­­the University of Illinois. Her work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Lunch Ticket, and The Feminist Wire, among other publications. She is a 2016 fellow of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop.

*****

Guardian Angels and Other Monsters is a collection of fourteen stories by Daniel H. Wilson. In Miss Gloria, the protagonist is a robot named Chiron who can resurrect himself again and again in order to save a young girl. In The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever, a physicist wants to be with his daughter after an atmospheric anomaly strikes. He knows the end of the earth is coming. Jack, the Determined is about a mechanical man who questions the nature of his identity and The Executor is about cyberpunk. If Helmet is about hard science fiction, Blood Memory is about a mother who learns that her daughter will never get assimilated in this world because she was born through a teleportation device. In All Kinds of Proof, a down-and-out drunk makes friends with a mail-carrying robot. Daniel H. Wilson gives professional identities to his characters such as meteorologist in Foul Weather and a taxonomist in Garden of Life. Parasite is set in the trenches of war with the protagonist Lark Iron Cloud while One for Sorrow, is about childlike “Avtomat” named Elena Petrova. Wilson’s tech-filled stories are not emotionless as The Nostalgist” is about the love of a godfather while God Mode is about the awful longing of an avatar who misses his true love. The theme of Special Automatic,” is an automaton that goes out of control like a Frankenstein. Daniel H. Wilson’s explores one of the most important questions of our times. As a computer scientist specializing in robotics, Wilson argues that artificial intelligence can both save and destroy humanity. Guardian Angels and Other Monsters is not a science fiction in the sense we understand science fiction. There is more science than fiction in Guardian Angels and Other Monsters. All the fourteen stories are as captivating as they are entertaining. You will enjoy them even if you don’t particularly like science or science fiction. They will leave an indelible impact on you.

Daniel H. Wilson is the bestselling author of RobopocalypseRobogenesisAmpedHow to Survive a Robot UprisingWhere’s My Jetpack?How to Build a Robot ArmyThe Mad Scientist Hall of Fame, and Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and earned a B.S. in computer science from the University of Tulsa and a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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