Erin Keane in Salon:
Much has been written in the wake of the 2016 elections about our polarized political climate and the growing inequality that has contributed to the electoral stakes feeling higher — and collective fuses running shorter — than they have in decades. Along with the election postmortems comes a dynamic new literary anthology, “Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation” (Sept. 5, Penguin).
Edited by John Freeman, who created a similar collection focused on New York in 2015, “Tales of Two Americas” includes short fiction, essays, narrative journalism and poetry from a powerhouse stable of acclaimed authors including Roxane Gay, Richard Russo, Ann Patchett, Kevin Young, Anthony Doerr, Sandra Cisneros, Rebecca Solnit, Edwidge Danticat, Clair Vaye Watkins and recent U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, among others. Its pages cover a lot of ground in space and time, from Mexican immigrant agricultural workers in mid-century California to the plasma centers of today, from the complex love life of a Haitian immigrant home health aide in Miami to the secret yearnings of a waitress in a decaying northern Michigan town.
There’s neither glossy escapism nor gritty dystopian metaphor here. “Tales of Two Americas” is instead committed to a realistic portrayal of the differences between those with easy access to America’s opportunities and those without. In a time when for many Americans — as “Swamplandia!” author and Pulitzer finalist Karen Russell writes in her essay on the homeless population of Portland, Oregon — “the difference between living indoors and living on the street is an injury, an accident, a family emergency, a bad season, a month’s salary,” this clear-eyed collection of truths about inequality feels more urgent than ever.