Us: Americans Talk About Love

The precise vignettes in this collection could double as a master class in the art of storytelling: each one is a tiny marvel, compressing years, often lifetimes, into the space of a few pages; uncanny in capturing the rhythms and tics of the human voice and the oddball details —  a forlorn bowl of guacamole; an adulterous sweatshirt —  that could only come from life.

And in fact, they did. John Bowe and his collaborators, like Studs Terkel before them, collect oral histories and edit them down into miniature portraits with all their texture and unruly quirks intact. The lone bowl of guacamole is left by a Yale junior outside the dorm room of his beloved, who is in love with a future movie star, but who will eventually come to her senses and marry the man bearing mashed avocados. A teen girl pines for the old sweatshirt, which she used to wear to sleep, but now sees on the back of her ex-boyfriend, who has left her for another girl. A self-described “Mike Tyson-type” learns how to live in the white collar world after he woos the special events co-ordinator for Harrod’s Casino in line at the DMV; decades later, she dies in her fanciest clothes on their rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. Too strange and specific to be prescriptive, exactly, these stories capture just how profound it can be for one person to telescope all of one’s attention towards one single, other person.