Byzantium

Ben Stroud. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-55597-646-0
In the title story in this remarkable debut collection, the crippled son of a prominent general living in the eponymous ancient Greek city is called upon by the emperor for a harrowing and bloody task. “The Moor” features an academic who attempts to unravel the final years of a 19-century detective’s life. In “The Traitor of Zion,” an impressionable American cult member, also living in the 19th century, discovers the dark side of his leader and himself. And the death-obsessed middle-schooler of “Eraser” imagines ways to escape his step-father’s fishing trip while gaining the attention of his mother. Stroud writes convincingly in any time or mode, juggling heavily plotted stories of historical fiction that are cinematic in their sense of adventure and more traditional literary stories admirable for their restraint and close examination of intrapersonal conflicts. It can feel as if Stroud is trying to outdo himself, attempting to discover a narrative or time period he can’t conquer, as he places his characters into radically disparate worlds and genres; fortunately, every story is its own success, leaving the impression that Stroud can, indeed, do anything. This is an exciting and essential collection, unlike anything in recent memory, and a decidedly impressive debut. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 07/23/2013
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