The Book of Other People is a Zadie Smith-edited collection of short stories, solicited from an all-star lineup of contemporary fiction writers whose only instruction was that they "make somebody up." Each story is named for the character it's about, from Chris Ware's "Jordan Wellington Lint" to Miranda July's "Roy Spivey" to George Saunders' "Puppy." (See? Told you it was all-star.)
The collection is less consistent than you might expect, given the impressive roster of contributors. There are a handful of great stories (Daniel Clowes' strip about an online film critic; Edwidge Danticat's melodic "Lélé," one of the few contributions that feels fully realized), a few that wouldn't make a passing grade in a community college creative writing class (Aleksander Hemon's piece, "The Liar," is downright lazy), and lots of good-but-not-great writing in between.
Not to get too name droppy about it, but I suspect that Other People is best appreciated if you're already familiar with most of the contributing writers. It would make a poor introduction to any of these authors (and in all honesty might turn you off a few of them), but if you've already read David Mitchell or Jonathan Safran Foer, it's fascinating to see what they do within a specific set of parameters. Jonathan Lethem's "Perkus Tooth" reads like a chapter out of The Fortress of Solitude, but it's still one of the collection's best entries. Chris Ware's comic strip begins promisingly, with an ambitious representation of the way a baby acquires language, before it devolves into a visually intricate but narratively bereft story about a boy coping with the death of his mother. Miranda July is predictably offbeat and melancholy in a tale about a woman who meets a celebrity on an airplane, while Dave Eggers comes from total left field with a story about a giant.
It's hard to get too nitpicky about the collection, though; it's essentially a one-off for charity, with proceeds benefiting 826 New York, a nonprofit that aims to inspire students to write (based on Eggers' 826 Valencia). As Smith puts it in her intro, "The Book of Other People represents real people making fictional people work for real people." Some of the real people are better at making fictional people work than others, but it's a worthwhile effort all the same.