Alan Cheuse

More than a dozen short-story collections since Canada's Alice Munro published her first book, and she now seems as much an institution as any living writer. We count on her for a particular variety of short story, the sort that gives us so much life within the bounds of a single tale that it nourishes us almost as much as a novel does.

"My aim," writes English novelist Guy Ableman to his agent, "is to write a transgressive novel that explores the limits of the morally permissible in our times."

Sounds quite serious, even brow-wrinkling, doesn't it? A dangerous act of experimental writing, perhaps something Norman Mailer might have tried, or Henry Miller before him?

I've devoted many hours in my life to reading, and among these hours many of them belong to the creations of novelist Louise Erdrich. In more than a dozen books of fiction — mostly novel length — that make up a large part of her already large body of work, Erdrich has given us a multitude of narrative voices and stories. Never before has she given us a novel with a single narrative voice so smart, rich and full of surprises as she has in The Round House. It's her latest novel, and, I would argue, her best so far.

New York, New York, it's a wonderful town! And Mark Helprin's new near-epic novel makes it all the more marvelous. It's got great polarized motifs — war and peace, heroism and cowardice, crime and civility, pleasure and business, love and hate, bias and acceptance — which the gifted novelist weaves into a grand, old-fashioned romance, a New York love story that begins with a Hollywoodish meet-cute on the Staten Island Ferry.

Ursula Le Guin comes immediately to mind when you turn the pages of Kij Johnson's first book of short stories, her debut collection is that impressive. The title piece has that wonderful power we hope for in all fiction we read, the surprising imaginative leap that takes us to recognize the marvelous in the everyday.

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Nothing like a novel by a young recruit to tell you the truths about an army, as in, say, From Here to Eternity and The Naked and the Dead. In this case it's a book called The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu, a young female veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. And though it may not be the first of its kind — Moshe Dayan's daughter Yael published some fiction about the Israeli army decades ago — Boianjiu's debut novel has some virtues all its own, and some flaws.

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Experimental fiction in North America began with a genius of a doyen in Paris: Gertrude Stein, whose aesthetic assertion that writers shape and form and reform the medium of language the way sculptors work with stone, painters work with light and shape and composers work with sound, changed Hemingway forever and, thus, changed the nature of the American short story — or the American art story, at least.

Head to the bookstore or pick up your Nook or Kindle or iPad, and prepare, if you will, to make some decisions about your summer reading life. My suggestions this year tend to be fine new fiction, the kind that not only flows on the page but also makes a sort of music in your mind. So, word music it is! Strike up the orchestra! It's going to be a big summer for big broad American literary voices, voices that leap from the page and linger with you, echo through your summer and perhaps even beyond.

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