Jane Ciabattari

Jane Ciabattari is the author of the short-story collections Stealing The Fire and California Tales. Her reviews, interviews, and cultural reporting have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Daily Beast, the Paris Review, the Boston Globe, The Guardian, Bookforum, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and BBC.com among others. She is a current vice president/online and former president of the National Book Critics Circle.

Paul Goldberg's audacious first novel begins at 2:37 a.m. on Feb. 24, 1953, when a Black Maria, a car used to transport prisoners through the night, leaves the "improbably tall, castle-like gates" of Lubyanka, Moscow's KGB headquarters and prison. Three men — a state security officer and two young soldiers — are inside, on their way to arrest a Red Army veteran and onetime Moscow State Jewish Theater actor named Solomon Shimonovich Levinson.

Hortense Calisher, a virtuoso of the form, once called the short story "an apocalypse in a teacup." It's a definition that suits the remarkable stories published this year by three literary superstars, and two dazzling newcomers with voices so distinctive we're likely to be hearing from them again. These stories are intense, evocative delights to be devoured singly when you have only a sliver of time, or savored in batches, at leisure, on a winter weekend.