cover image The Paris Review Book of People with Problems

The Paris Review Book of People with Problems

The Paris Review, . . Picador, $15 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-42241-7

All fiction concerns people with problems—without them, after all, where's the plot?—but the characters in these 17 stories, originally published in the Paris Review between 1974 and 2004, have been dealt particularly bad hands. Some, like the junkie mother in Malinda McCollum's "The Fifth Wall," have screwed up their lives pretty thoroughly, while others appear to be merely drifting along, like the therapist in Charles Baxter's "Westland." The tone shifts from story to story: Joanna Scott traces the beginnings of a psychoanalyst's obsession with a patient in the neutral language of a case history, while Elizabeth Gilbert continually ups the farcical stakes as she spins a yarn about a violent nightclub owner, his magician daughter and their rabbit. Other contributors include Denis Johnson, Mary Robison, Rick Bass and Norman Rush. Charlie Smith's tale of drunken buddies who hook up with a naked woman on a canoeing trip is the only real misstep, coming off like a parody of stories of rural dysfunction. But this is overall a strong anthology of tales of trouble. (July)