Over the years, summer has become synonymous with beach reading or lit-lite, those heated months in danger of being swamped by chick-lit and frivolous fiction. This anthology is a breath of fresh air, an opportunity to spend a few hours of intellectual stimulation.
The cover features an image of the collection behind glass, with instructions to "break in case of emergency." This is an emergency! Who can resist these stories - some from George Plimpton's editorial oversight, others chosen by new The Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch – whose authors include Annie Proulx, Rick Bass, Frederick Busch, Denis Johnson and Julie Oringer?
The most recent Paris Review anthology is timed to coincide with Philip Gourevitch's redesign of the venerable magazine, a staple of avid readers for the last fifty-two years, this volume dedicated to "People with Problems." The new editor, who lobbied enthusiastically for his position, has a vision for Plimpton's seminal magazine: to "publish essential reading."
A welcome addition to briefcase or bedside table, as a companion to a solitary meal or a story before sleep, The Paris Review Book of People with Problems is a certain success. In James Lasdun's "Snow," a young boy awakens to life's realities one snow-filled Christmas, years before he processes what he discovers on his journey to manhood.
"The Fifth Wall" by Melinda McCallum is a shocking expose of the drug culture, a soul-searing foray into drug life as a methamphetamine-addicted mother allows her child to be used muling drugs to California. Meanwhile, the mother spins out her own private dance of self-destruction.
Rick Bass writes an exceptional tale in "The Hermit's Story," stepping into the pristine landscape of the Canadian winter as a female dog trainer returns a man's dogs and they wander, setting the training with the animals in the snowy countryside. They experience the beauty and danger of nature's extremes, touching upon a moment of grace that the woman relates to friends' years later, that "ribbons of grace are still passing through and around us, even now, and for whatever reasons, certainly unbeknownst to us, and certainly undeserved, unearned."
A woman who is "beautiful except for" tells her story in Miranda July's "Birthmark". When her port-wine birth mark is removed by laser, she is beautiful without caveat but finds that wish fulfillment is never as wonderful as the anticipation.
Creativity and critical thinking, observations of modern life, both dark humor and drama; the series of Paris Review anthologies offer quality writing for those who demand it, a variety of perspectives, the truth in its many disguises. True to its title, this collection is about people with problems, either unaware or by means of their own self-destructive impulses. In other instances, the authors speak to the mundane events that inhabit their own small dramas. There is something for everyone to savor in this fine compilation, people with problems and more.