In other, less prodigious hands, it could easily come across as a tired assignment from Creative Writing 101: Write a short story inspired by an iconic short story of your choice. But thanks to Rivka Galchen’s bracing originality and powerfully unique voice, the ten luminous stories in her new collection American Innovations are anything but junior varsity.

Galchen, who was included in the New Yorker’s list of 20 Under 40 fiction writers in 2010, already has one sparkling novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, under her belt, and American Innovations marks a sharp step forward for American short stories, which have for far too long been held in thrall to a certain strain of “naturalism” equally apparent in many contemporary novels. But Galchen’s stories are remarkably—and pleasurably—weird, offering up tales of a lonely woman whose furniture runs out on her, of a young girl fascinated by the pulsing vein in the wrist of a former heroin addict, of a former lawyer who feels strangely compelled to fulfill a takeout order accidentally placed to her apartment phone, all of them lonely figures wandering through a landscape that bears enough similarity to our own to reflect the dizzying strangeness of our own lives.

Galchen has said that each tale in American Innovations bears the DNA of an older, canonical short story, refracted through a female perspective, although the familial resemblance, refreshingly, is more like that between very distant cousins rather than, say, a father and his daughter. “It was different for the different stories, and sometimes more conscious and sometimes less,” she explains about the parallels. “I confess I didn’t see the concept until the majority of the stories were already written! I almost always work like that though, sort of backwards and with a blindfold on, and then I find out I’ve pinned a tail on the refrigerator or something, and I try to make some- thing of that, even though a refrigerator isn’t much of a donkey, but occasionally it is.”

Galchen’s “rhymes” are less about plot twists and characters than subtle gradations of tone and mood. Opener “The Lost Order,” for example, while ostensibly a reference to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” also pulls heavily from Haruki Murakami’s general œuvre. “He has these spacey narrators and those narrators usually are played up against fairly blank and unperceived females,” she explains, “and I wanted to see what would happen if the dreamy center of the story—the ‘charmingly’ irresponsible archetype—were a woman.”

Galchen writes with a glorious and gentle lyricism, her sentences clear and sharp in their tracings of the world’s complexity. Her stories shine a light on hidden thoughts and desires, offering up unimagined possibilities for grace as her characters spin through their quiet lives. When asked how she chose the stories she referenced for her own, she offers up a dictum that would serve just as well as a rule for her women—or any of us—to live by: “That’s where you just trust that what you love runs deeper than you know it to, and then that love is a kind of magnetism for the right details, one hopes.”

American Innovations is out now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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