Hortense Calisher, a virtuoso of the form, once called the short story "an apocalypse in a teacup." It's a definition that suits the remarkable stories published this year by three literary superstars, and two dazzling newcomers with voices so distinctive we're likely to be hearing from them again. These stories are intense, evocative delights to be devoured singly when you have only a sliver of time, or savored in batches, at leisure, on a winter weekend.
The most dangerous trait a woman can possess is curiosity. That's what myths and religion would have us believe, anyway. Inquisitive Pandora unleashed sorrow upon the world. Eve got us kicked out of paradise. Blight on civilization it may be, but female curiosity is a gift to narrative and the quality my five favorite heroines of the year possess in spades.
Sometimes "the one that got away" is a book that was easy to overlook. A little gem of a first novel, or a memoir by an unknown writer that unexpectedly captured everyone's imagination.
But sometimes, it's the elephant in the room that you just haven't looked at yet. Everyone knows about it. It's one of the biggest sellers of all time. It's a cultural phenomenon — it's Fifty Shades of Grey. And I ignored it until I couldn't anymore.
It's probably not true that truth is stranger than fiction, but in the hands of a great biographer, it can be just as compelling. Novelists can create unique and unforgettable characters — there's never been anyone quite like Jane Eyre or Ignatius J. Reilly — but there's no shortage of fascinating literary protagonists who just happened to exist in real life.