Thus, Tolstoy’s well-known observation—that happy families are all alike and “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—brings these stories together. But if Tolstoy was right, then one could argue that this condition of unhappiness is defined by what a family—or a member of that family—lacks; that it isn’t what we possess but what we are missing that makes us, inherently, us.
The short stories in this issue, told by masters of the form—Richard Bausch and Ann Beattie—rising talents—Taylor Antrim and Elliott Holt—and a new voice in American fiction—Praveen Krishna—all with original illustrations by Polish artist Gosia Herba—follow a series of characters who seem propelled by what’s missing in their lives. They seek it out through awkward homecomings, infidelity, extravagant gestures of one kind or another that trigger curious turning points. A family reunites in tense celebration. A couple moves deeper into concealment as the years pass. Children betray and disappoint. Parents die. In these stories, an absence—of kinship, paternal love, or one’s own self—is a kind of obstacle that must be overcome.