A Bit on the Side, By William Trevor
A man breaks off a longtime affair because he can't abide being the object of speculation. Over a long night, a lout's widow slowly and softly reveals how he has destroyed her happiness. In each of Trevor's new stories, nuance is everything. Whole lives are revealed in a few snatches of dialogue. Every story here is a model example of just how much a great writer can reveal in a short space. And if the outcomes of these meticulously observed tales are rarely happy, the sadness is always counterweighted by the author's genuine compassion toward his subjects.
The Double, By Jose Saramago
Saramago won the Nobel before most Americans knew who he was, but damned if the Swedes weren't right: his novel "Blindness," for one, is a beautiful, ferocious book that your heart never quite recovers from. "The Double" concerns a timorous history professor who becomes obsessed with meeting a film actor who looks unnervingly like his twin. The novel starts slowly--it's as if the story doesn't want to get out of bed--and Saramago's signature three-page paragraphs anesthetize. Eventually there's drama and some philosophizing about identity, but this still feels like a short story that got too big for its binding.
Gilgamesh, By Stephen Mitchell
A thousand years before Homer went to work on the Iliad, "Gilgamesh," one of the world's first epic sagas and still one of humanity's most satisfying narratives, was being crafted in what is now Iraq. Freshly rendered by translator Mitchell, this ancient tale of a cocky ruler's collision with his own mortality is beautifully retold and a page turner in the bargain. Like Seamus Heaney's recent retelling of "Beowulf," this book proves that in the right hands, no great story ever grows stale.