Every writer has to start somewhere. Maggie Shipstead’s bestselling 2021 novel, Great Circle, earned a place on the Booker Prize shortlist, but the road to such success is often long. In Shipstead’s case, as she explains in the acknowledgments of You Have a Friend in 10A, her path began with stories written while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University.
This collection of 10 works of short fiction, all previously published, gives readers the inspiring experience of charting the maturation of one of America’s finest authors. Most impressive is the book’s range of perspectives, from the chilling “La Moretta,” in which a couple on their European honeymoon slowly realizes their marriage may have been a mistake, to “Souterrain,” a tale of a dying Parisian man and his housekeeper’s son, who believes the man to be his father.
In a few pieces, it’s clear that Shipstead was still discovering what her words could do, but the best are exceptional portraits of characters unaware of the effects of their actions. Highlights include “The Cowboy Tango,” in which a Montana man who runs a ranch for tourists becomes smitten with the teenage girl he hired as a wrangler and joins “in the silent chorus of the unloved” when she falls for his divorced nephew; and the story “Acknowledgments” (not to be confused with the author’s own acknowledgments), in which a pompous author uses hilariously Nabokovian sentences like “Let us skip that Rabelaisian era known as adolescence and hop jauntily to my twenty-fifth year.”
In one story, a character reflects that “even a life lived properly, lived better than she was living, could bring so much grief.” The finest stories in You Have a Friend in 10A show that perpetual grief may not necessarily lead to great lives, but it can produce scintillating fiction.