The trick with a short story is to provide enough detail to render the characters three-dimensional and believable while simultaneously leaving enough space for plot so that the episode recounted makes the reader want to stop for a moment before moving on to the next story.
Natasha by David Bezmozgis does just that.
The seven stories in the collection follow the Berman family - Bella, Roman and their son Mark - as they emigrate in the late 70s from Latvia to settle in the Jewish Eastern European section of Toronto.
The stories are chronological, told in the first person by Mark Berman the adult, and they are narrative gems. The narrator is able to translate the mood of the household, the neighbourhood and the intervening decades (Mark is about 30 when he recounts the incidents from his life) into language that is precise, unadorned and yet so very expressive. The style might even be described as cinematographic with scenes that could easily be filmed - sometimes panning out, sometimes zooming in on an object or comment - elevating the mundane to the epic and maintaining a perpetual sense of foreboding for this somewhat unfortunate, ordinary but nonetheless complex little world on Bathurst Street: Nine-year-old Mark wonders innocently (and the reader frets in proxy) at what's become of his father and the wife of the influential Dr. Kornblum while dinner is served. The Natasha of the title is a 14-year-old girl whose unnerving sexual worldliness induces a physical and psychic shiver but offers no self-evident meaning, establishes no causal links, and provides no resolution.
"Natash and Other Stories" portrays situations and responses that are existential in execution and outlook – they are modern and brilliant.