MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Molly Antopol was celebrated last year by the National Book Foundation as one of their five under 35 writers. Though she's young, our reviewer Meg Wolitzer calls her an old soul who channels another era. Antopol's new book is "The UnAmericans."
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: The title of Molly Antopol's collection is a pun. A couple of her characters are political dissidents. One is even tried before the House Un-American Activities Committee. But other times to be Un-American in this book just means not being American. Some of Antopol's characters are Israeli or Russian, and her stories are set in far off places like Tel Aviv, Prague and the Ukraine.
But let me assure you, reading it doesn't feel like you're in some kind of literary Epcot Center. The stories are as satisfying as individual novels. They'll make you nostalgic, not just for earlier times, but for another era in short fiction, a time when writers like Bernard Malamud, and Issac Bashevis Singer and Grace Paley roamed the Earth.
In the story called "A Difficult Phase," a young woman named Talia is working as a fact-checker at one of those newspapers that they left out for free on trains and in laundromats. She starts dating a much older widower, named Tomer, but she seems stuck at that awkward place, caught between being her parents' child and the girlfriend of a man who has a teenage child.
At dinner with her parents, Tomer offers to do some construction on their house. Maybe Talia can help, her mother said, get some work experience. But when Talia points out that she has a job, her parents say, journalism, and laugh as if she was five years old and had just announced that when she grew up, she wanted to be a robot or a dragon.
The strongest piece is called "My Grandmother Tells Me This Story." A young woman listens to her grandmother's astonishing life stories, which starts in the sewers. Her parents have sent her off to escape the Nazis. In the forest, she joins a group of filthy teenagers who will do anything to survive.
The story is about what desperation will make people do and it's juxtaposed with the intense curiosity of the listener, who we know is trying to get it because she wasn't there. So when the grandmother is done telling the story, she suddenly says to her granddaughter, I don't understand you. All your life you've been like this, pulling someone into a corner at every family party, asking so many questions it's no wonder you've always had a difficult time making friends.
And if, in fact, that's what Molly Antopol's been doing her whole life, it worked, as this beautiful and appealing collection will attest.
BLOCK: That's Meg Wolitzer. She reviewed the new collection of stories from Molly Antopol titled, "The UnAmericans."