cover image Emperor of the Air: Stories

Emperor of the Air: Stories

Ethan Canin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15.95 (179pp) ISBN 978-0-395-42976-1

Canin's outstanding debut, winner of a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, gathers nine stories originally published in the Atlantic, Esquire and Ploughshares, among others; two were selected for the Best American Short Stories 1985 and 1986. At 27, the gifted author, a Harvard Medical School student who was a creative writing instructor and an Iowa Review editor, informs a technical expertise with a keen sense of the dynamics of the human psyche. His far-reaching vision encompasses ""The Year of Getting to Know Us,'' where the protagonist recognizes in himself aspects of his father's disturbing uncommunicativeness, and ``American Beauty,'' where a teenager cannot escape his bitter older brother's grim prescription of life's inevitabilities: ``You're going to turn into a son of a bitch, just like me.'' Several of the marvelous tales showcase love's singular, redemptive powers: an elderly couple revives their comatose relationship in ``We Are Nighttime Travelers''; a daughter bribes a guard to release her mother who is caught shoplifting in ``Pitch Memory''; and a straight-arrow husband lies for his wife in ``Where We Are Now.'' With a fine attention to detail, Canin continually surprises readers as he casts the mundane in new light (for example, the young narrator of ``Star Food'' unloads bags of potato chips in their aluminum racks ``as if I were putting children to sleep in their beds''). (February 3)