Charles Baxter is the Edelstein-Keller Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota. His latest book is There’s Something I Want You to Do: Stories. (April 2018)


Shades of Death

Denis Johnson

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

by Denis Johnson
Early in the fourth story of The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, we are introduced to a shadowy character named Darcy Miller, a writer dying of liver cancer in the middle of nowhere. The narrator tells us that this writer, his friend, once published under the name “D. Hale Miller.” …

Chattering Spirits

George Saunders, Oneonta, New York, November 2012

Lincoln in the Bardo

by George Saunders
From beyond the grave, a zombie named Aunt Bernie questions the nature of capitalism. “Why do some people get everything and I got nothing?…Why? Why was that?” she asks. Her nephew, the narrator of George Saunders’s story “Sea Oak” (1998), in which this query appears, has no answer to that …

Never a Dull Moment

The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories

by Joy Williams
What kinds of narratives fit comfortably into the short-story form? An impossible question: at no time has there been any general consensus about how to answer it, and anyone who tries to formulate such an answer usually becomes the victim of critical potshots. But the issue is worth raising, because even a partial explanation might tell us what short stories actually do, what part they play in our culture, and why writers go on stubbornly committing them to print.

The Hideous Unknown of H.P. Lovecraft

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft

edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, and with an introduction by Alan Moore
The effectiveness of Lovecraft’s fiction has little to do with its purely literary qualities, which are minimal, but with another feature that’s harder to pinpoint: the ways it casts a spell. Fiction like Lovecraft’s can be brutally hypnotic; the young reader, intellectually undefended and easily shaken, enters the writer’s fear-drenched universe and can’t easily get out of it. The mood of unappeasable, apocalyptic menace gradually overcomes those who are unprepared for it.

Which Banville Shall We Choose?

John Banville, from the dust jacket of Ancient Light, and Banville as Benjamin Black, from the dust jacket of Vengeance

Ancient Light

by John Banville


by Benjamin Black
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s praise for the work of other writers is almost undetectable, especially those from whom he had learned some elements of style—Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson in particular. Early in his memoir, however, Hemingway singles out a novelist whose books provide what he calls “after-work” pleasures …

Brute Force…Humanism

John Irving at his summer house in Pointe au Baril, Ontario, 2009

In One Person

by John Irving
As a thought experiment, imagine a novel by an author you never heard of whose story comprises a coming-of-age tale in which the main character is educated in a Vermont prep school. Although his father may still be alive somewhere, the boy lives in the shadow of his handsome stepfather and his remote, disapproving mother. Various colorful relatives and townspeople circle in orbit around him. Fascinated by members of the school’s wrestling team, he later becomes a wrestler himself. In his adolescence the young man develops an interest in theater. He also discovers in himself a talent for writing.

A Different Kind of Delirium

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

by Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo’s new book of nine stories, The Angel Esmeralda, has at its core a series of situations that lead to trance states experienced by the insulted, the injured, and the vulnerable… Written over the span of the past thirty-three years, the stories specialize in elaborate narrative chronologies in which some key element is missing. These strategic omissions give the stories their distinctive, nagging inscrutability, along with plots that present a mystery that hasn’t been announced, much less solved.