Written mostly by American writers, this collection has a marvellous feel of truth. One might have wished for more British examples of the genre, but it is varied for all that. Among my favourites was the Sri Lankan writer Romesh Gunsekera's story about a ten-year-old boy working as a servant in a volatile household with a cruel overseer but a kind master. I also loved Marly Swick's story, Heart, about a girl of the same name who is taken to live with an uncle and aunt when her parents' marriage breaks down. Amy Tan's story about a girl who becomes a chess champion is another evocative vignette, and Richard Yates's story about a family in New York is superb. Other stand-out stories by Leonard Michaels, Stephanie Vaughn, Spalding Grey, Ellen Gilchrist and John Bennet, make this a memorable and exciting collection of childhood stories.
There is a strength and a suppleness to almost all of the writing here - the editor, Lorrie Moore, one of America's best short story writers, has a very sure ear for what reads strongly and sympathetically on the page. There is no sentimentality or mawkishness about childhood in this collection.
Perhaps my favourite story in this collection is Charles D'Ambrosio's perfect and moving story about a young boy who is given the job of making sure his mother's drunken friends get home safely from her innumerable parties, along the beach front where they are living. It so clearly expresses the tolerance and forgiving wisdom of children when faced with the horrendous mistakes made by adults in the grip of alcohol. It is also very, very funny.
Few of these stories seemed make-weight, but one from Ben Okri read rather blandly, despite its picture of warring parents, and there were a couple of rather wafty, vague little pieces that never got to grips with their subjects, but the vast majority of them proved a delight to read.