CLAYTON HAMILTON'S "The Structure of the Short Story," written in 1908 and since hammered into the heads of too many ill-fated creative writing majors, defined the short story as well as anything, calling them works that aim "to produce a single narrative effect with the greatest economy of means." Take Adam Levin's Hot Pink, for example: 207 pages split into 10 stories, three of them spectacular, six of them solid, and one that's still better than what you'd hit by checking out a random chunk of fiction in The New Yorker.
Hot Pink also immediately recalls Levin's first novel, The Instructions, which was raved about by everyone who had the time to read it. I did not read it, because it was the size of a goddamn phone book, and if a novel's thicker than the average creative writing major, I'm gonna make sure it's worth it. I can't think of anything nicer to say about Hot Pink than—before I even finished it—it inspired me to pick up The Instructions.
That's because Hot Pink is the sort of collection that has you burning through one story after another; I read it not in bursts but in long sessions, story after story after story. Three of those, "Finch," "Considering the Bittersweet End of Susan Falls," and "Hot Pink" (all of which, probably not coincidentally, are about troubled teenagers—like Susan Falls, who's described as having "lost her legs as a baby, in the jungle, to gangrene, after the leopard bit her"), end entirely too soon. Each of them has enough in it to fuel a novel.
A couple of other stories—"Frankenwittgenstein," about a family's devolution when its patriarch becomes obsessed with building "Bonnie: The Beautiful Body-Action Doll for the Self-Body Image-Enhancement of Toddling and Preadolescent Girls at Risk," and "Scientific American," in which a man becomes fixated on the fact that one of his home's walls oozes a mysterious gel—tread in the sort of darkly comic, hyper-detailed territory that, until four years ago, was David Foster Wallace's. This isn't the first time Levin's been compared to Wallace, but it'd be glib to leave the comparison at that and call it a day: There's a griminess and blurriness to Levin's best stories, a sense of their characters being worn-in, broken, wearily aware of the world's awkwardness. In other words, there's heart, which wasn't always Wallace's greatest strength. The stories in Hot Pink offer engrossing glimpses into strange, broken lives; despite the ooze and leopards, it's not uncommon to want to keep looking a little longer than Levin lets us.