We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser, Knopf, 387 pages, $27.95. One would think that a Pulitzer Prize and a short story that turned into one of the more remarkable films of its year would entitle a 68-year-old novelist to a good deal more enduring renown than what has been apportioned to Steven Millhauser. The trouble is not with Millhauser, who is by any critical assay, one of the more tantalizing of living American writers, but with our altered methods of assigning fame in a post-infotainment, Internet world where cable news has a 24-hour news cycle and attention spans are assumed to be approximately the length of a Geico TV commercial or a Lady Gaga single.
Millhauser is a great living writer. It's his candidacy for literary fame, post-modern style, that's lacking. He's spent his writing life quietly publishing and teaching (he's at Skidmore) and not marrying famous actresses or getting into public feuds or not-so-privately campaigning for a Nobel.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was "Martin Dressler." The story that was transformed into the movie "The Illusionist" (starring, get this, Paul Giammati and Edward Norton) was "Eisenheim, the Illusionist," which is one of the stories included in one of the summer's more welcome books "We Others," a canny selection of Millhauser's stories since he first appeared with his novel "Edwin Mullhouse," to which seven new stories (including the 50-page title novella) have been added.
However unfair it might be, the quick thumbnail characterization of Millhauser is the American postmodern response to Borges and Calvino.
Among the new stories, Millhauser gives us a new take on Leonid Andreyev's "He Who Gets Slapped" (a writer much in need of revival, Andreyev), teenage lovers transformed by disease and a white glove and a glorious Borgesian literalization of "People of the Book" in which "young scholars" are acerbically exhorted to remember that books have mortality and "Tomorrow you will begin your long journey through the commentaries Remember the Paradise of Books."
-- Jeff Simon