The 34 works gathered here are formally inventive yet tightly controlled, morally charged by newly politicized notions of identity but fraught with anxiety about a body whose fragility had been freshly emphasized by the AIDS epidemic. Individually, Peck argues in his characteristically incisive introduction, the pieces are vivid—emotionally rich, and powered by a new prose that mixes the vernacular with an almost poetic sense of control. Taken as a body of work, they challenge the prevailing notion of the ’80s as a time of aesthetic as well as financial maximalism, and offer a more expansive, inclusive view of literary possibility.
The anthology blends early stories from writers like Denis Johnson, Jamaica Kincaid, Mary Gaitskill, and Raymond Carver, which have gone on to become part of the American canon, with remarkable and often transgressive work from some of the most celebrated writers of the underground, including Dennis Cooper, Eileen Myles, Lynne Tillman, and Gary Indiana. Peck has also included powerful work by writers such as Gil Cuadros, Essex Hemphill, and Sam D’Allesandro, whose untimely deaths from AIDS ended their careers almost before they had begun. Almost a third of the stories are out of print and unavailable anywhere else.
The Soho Press Book of ‘80s Short Fiction is a daring re-appraisal of a decade that feels increasingly central to our culture.