Brian Doyle

There is a story in every thing, and every being, and every moment, were we alert to catch it, were we ready with out tender notes; indeed there are a hundred, a thousand stories, uncountable stories, could they only be lured out and appreciated; and more and more now I realize that what I thought was a skill only for authors and pastors and doctors and dream-diviners is the greatest of all human skills, the one that allows us into the heart and soul and deepest layers of our companions on the brief sunlit road between great dark wildernesses. We are here to witness, to apprehend, to see and hear, to plumb, with patience and humility, the shy stories of others; and in some cases, like mine, then shape and share them; so that they might sometimes, like inky arrows, sink into the depths of other men and women and children, and cause pleasure, or empathy, or a sort of delicious pain, as you realize that someone somewhere else, even perhaps in a time long ago, felt just as you did. Stories, among their many virtues, are messages from friends you did not know you had; and while you may well never meet the friend, you feel the better, with one more companion by your side, than you thought you knew.

— Brian Doyle
The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World

This is how you open a book review

Start with a mustard seed of irrelevant fact. Rutherford Hayes’s wife, Lucy, was the first American president’s wife to be referred to as the first lady. Scribble this on a scrap of paper and present it to Karen Russell. Tell her she has to write a story about this old dead guy and reincarnate him as a horse. Give her a couple of pencils. Put her in a locked safe à la Houdini. Tie one arm behind her back. Give her the sniffles. Let her go after a modest interval and see what she comes up with: the hilarious, impossibly realized, even moving, story "The Barn at the End of Our Term."
Or how about this? Instead of menses, drugged young girls in feudal Japan produce silk. We’d like 9,000 words, please. Blindfold Karen Russell. Make her compose wearing mittens, her only sustenance Red Bull and those little mandarin orange Cutie things. See what happens: the exquisite "Reeling for the Empire"—first-rate, ­­­­elegant horror.
Vampires, krill, a stolen rabbit renamed Saturday: Russell will make magic of them all.

That's Joy Williams writing about Vampires in the Lemon Grove in The New York Times about Karen Russell. Williams notes that a "grim, stupendous, unfavorable magic is at work in these stories," and what a fine thing to aspire to as a writer—grim, stupendous, unfavorable magic.


The full New York Times Book Review text is here, but behind a firewall that will repel non-subscribers. 

You may read a portion of Williams' essay courtesy of Book Marks.