Thursday, February 6, 2014

book review: The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

The backstory: The UnAmericans, Molly Antopol's debut short story collection, was named one of the National Book Award's 5 Under 35 last year.

The basics: This collection of stories addresses themes of home, immigration, and history.

My thoughts: Longtime readers of this blog know that short stories are not my favorite medium, but the reviews were so universally glowing for Molly Antopol that I've been anticipating this collection since I first heard about it. The collection's first story, "The Old World," is among its best. It absolutely blew me away, and perhaps it set my expectations for the rest of the collection too high.

As my reading continued, I found the collection to somewhat uneven, except the highs were exceptional stories and the lows were still good stories. There was one story that I found relatively ordinary, but as a collection, it's impressive. I often struggle with assessing story collections as a whole because the order matters so much more to me as a reader. With only eight stories, of mostly equal lengths, there aren't places to hide. When the three stories I loved ended, I was sad. When the four good stories ended, it seemed appropriate. When the one story I didn't particularly enjoy ended, I was relieved. It's difficult for me as a reader to think about this collection as a whole because one story or another is always more present in my mind. What I loved most about my favorite stories were the characters. Antopol masterfully developed characters and worlds in the lifespan of a short story, and it made me long to read the novel she's currently writing, The After Party.

Favorite passage: "But she had always presented herself to the world in too apologetic a manner for me to take her ambitions seriously--because it hadn't yet occurred to me that it was different to be an artist or writer or thinker here in America. That one didn't need to be a persuasive speaker or have a charismatic presence, as every one of my colleagues had back in Prague. Daniela simply needed to live as an observer, sitting discreetly in a corner, quietly cataloging the foibles of those around her."

The verdict: There are three superb stories in this collection, and it made me a fan of Molly Antopol, even though I didn't love each of the collection's eight stories. Unsurprisingly, I'm eagerly awaiting her first novel because it's a form I adore, and with her stories, she's already established herself as an author I adore.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: February 3, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The UnAmericans from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Molly Antopol's website and follow her on Twitter. As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

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