Heather Clay, "Original Beauty" is the weakest of the lot. Two old high school girlfriends, to whom nothing especially interesting has happened since high school, get together to reminisce about something that didn't happen. The narrator recalls that a guy had sneaked into the girls' bathroom and looked longingly at her while he masturbated and she brushed by him to get out. Basically, a non-event, but one that suggested eventfulness. My reaction was, So?
Lara Vapnyar's "Love Lessons, Mondays, 9 A.M." is another thing entirely. It's very funny, and even though not much happens in the visible, exterior life of the young apprentice schoolteacher living with her aunt in Moscow, enormous things occur in her interior life. Physically, she gets laid, finally (she had feared it might not happen for a long time), but that turns out not to be especially exciting. What really happens is that she gains a suddenly mature insight into the pretenses of others and liberates herself from the gloom of always trying to please. Besides enjoying this bright young woman's company, we get to see details of life of modern Moscow's working poor.
The real prize in this collection is Daniel Alarc�n's "City of Clowns," tagged in the table of contents as "A life of crime in Lima." Brilliant. And, like Vapnyar's story, takes you far away from the boring routine of American suburbia. You can smell and feel Lima in this story, and get to experience its class conflicts as vividly as in the first novel by Alarc�n's elder countryman Mario Vargas Llosa, La ciudad y los perros -- which must have been part of the inspiration for this tale.
Anyway, I'm not jealous, though of course I'd be delighted to get one of my stories in the New Yorker. But for the Debut Fiction issue, I wasn't even eligible -- because I have already published a book of fiction, Welcome to My Contri. So I'll just pretend that that's the reason they didn't pick the wonderful story that I've been trying to get them interested in. (You can read City of Clowns on-line.)