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The Isle of Youth: Stories

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3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,579 ratings  ·  200 reviews
Laura van den Berg's gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these bewitching stories are at once vulnerable and d ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by FSG Originals
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Pamela
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very fine writing with not an ounce of flab. All of the stories concern women betwtixt and between--married but not sure they should be, or itinerant and struggling to stay fed and housed. Their situations are often unusual or extreme--one protagonist's honeymoon flight crashes, another falls in with a bunch of Parisian acrobats, a third travels to Antarctica for clues about what happened to her dead brother. Each woman veers between violent activity and nearly self-obliterating passivity. In th ...more
Maciek
Laura van den Berg's stories have been praised and recommended by Karen Russell, who herself is thanked by van den Berg in the book's acknowledgments section - and since I'm a fan of KR's writing, I decided to try her writing. I was drawn to this collection because of its intriguing title - what exactly could a story titled The Isle of Youth be about?

After finishing the collection, I can definitely see why these stories would appeal to Karen Russel and those who enjoy her work. All of Laura van
...more
Roxane
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely flawless.
Vicki
I'm significantly less impressed with this than Dave Eggers, Karen Russell and Ann Patchett are. I mean, Eggers invoked the name of my lost twin Lorrie Moore on the jacket for chrissakes! Did you just spray your coffee/tea/mimosa all over your computer screen? It's libel! Blasphemous! Has the man even read "You're Ugly, Too"? Between this comment and the whole plagiarism accusation (even if he didn't plagiarize, he somewhat proudly admitted he did no research for The Circle, so yay ignorance?), ...more
Diane S ☔
Dec 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
These stories all feature a woman or women, trying to understand the world in which they find themselves. How did they end up with the lives they are leading, what did they miss, how did they make the mistake that led them here.

The writing is detached as if it is an observer telling these stories. Surprisingly that worked very well in this collection and lets the reader become an observer themselves. Another thing that impressed me was that these stories were complete in and of themselves, and a
...more
Alexandra Grabbe
Nov 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I savored every turn of phrase and unusual twist of plot in this amazing collection of short stories. It has already garnered incredible reviews, but let me simply tell you what I enjoyed the most. There's a continuity from story to story. You sympathize with the protagonists, although most of them are young women who steal or lie or do something wicked. And, the book is really well written. The stories stay with you after you put the book down. I run a B&B on Cape Cod. My guests enjoy short ...more
Celeste Ng
I really enjoyed Laura van den Berg's first collection of stories and was eager to read this. Each story in The Isle of Youth is narrated by a young woman navigating her way through the pain of a loss, and the stories are at once dramatic and deceptively quiet: a new bride suffers a disastrous honeymoon; a group of young cousins hold up banks and stores, hurtling towards disaster; a pair of sisters work as private eyes tracking a man who disappears. Throughout, those who have been lost--missing ...more
Samantha
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This is one of those old-fashioned, gritty, good-as-shit collections of short stories about women. Up there — in language and plot — with Battleborn, for sure, and The Dark Dark.
Vincent Scarpa
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
These stories are timeless and they are relentless. They are brilliant, deeply-felt, big-hearted, and constructed with sympathy, grace, and purpose. The architecture of them, the mere structure, should be studied. The collection as a whole reminded me of one of my favorite Chan Marshall quotes, where she says, "Everybody's gotta get out of somewhere." This can be said of nearly all the characters in these stories-- they seek escape. They seek disappearance, reappearance, remodeling, renovation. ...more
Lauren
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
On the surface, the stories in "The Isle of Youth" are unremarkable: there are no gimmicks, no odd settings or supernatural elements. But every story stands alone, to be examined, and marveled over. I thought about each one long after I finished the collection and I credit van den Berg's exquisite writing. All of her characters have such a distinct voice and I felt as though I was inhabiting their world for just a little while. I would compare her to Alice Munro, both in talent and the potential ...more
Kim
Mar 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
An engaging collection of short stories all having to do with women who are kind of adrift in life. There is also a running theme of masks/false faces (literal and figurative). I thought the author did an excellent job creating very real characters in a relatively brief amount of words. I definitely felt engrossed in all of the stories, and enjoyed the way that none of them really ended in a neat or tidy way.
Robert Vaughan
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and speechless for a few days when I completed this collection all in one sitting. W-O-W!!!
Rocco Versaci
Sep 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A powerful, slim collection of seven stories that feature female characters (most of them narrators) on the brink of something--self-discovery, self-destruction, change, etc. Lots happens in these stories, but all of it arises organically from Vandenberg's sharp characterizations. The endings of many of these stories also demonstrate the delicate balance a writer achieves by reaching closure without resolution.
Chris
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was tucked into my Amazon cart, and I don't even know who to thank for the recommendation. The central story, "Antarctica," is especially wonderful, but each of these stories--which deal deftly with characters watching in some measure of befuddlement as things crumble around them--reveals a fascinating mind in action, especially when the character seems physically adrift in or swept up by their world.
Marian
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm bailing after three stories. I've liked other stories of the author's I've come across, but these are not doing it for me.
Vivek Tejuja
Dec 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den Be ...more
Sheryl
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The women in The Isle of Youth have experienced abandonment in its different guises, but each character and story remains distinct. They long to connect with their loved ones, but everyone seems to be leaving them and asking them to move on as well. We either get the sense that they are trying to escape their loneliness while struggling to move on, or they have resigned themselves to their fate, not wanting to do more. When an opportunity shows, they become impulsive and act upon it without much ...more
Gila Gila
Jun 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
When Laura van den Berg is good, she's very very good, and when she is bad she is florid.

The first three of these stories are striking and memorable: "I Looked For You, I Called Your Name" is a riveting account of a honeymoon in hell between newly marrieds who seem to barely know each other; and "Opa-Locka", the award winning story of a pair of deeply wounded sister detectives as they spiral downward, was absolutely worth my re-read. But it was "Lessons" that did me in. It's like a Sally Mann ph
...more
Danika
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Lovely, haunting stories. The author reminds me of Karen Russell (Southern, young, writing about quirky characters finding their way). Well worth seeking out. Here's the official summary, which is pretty much spot on.

"Laura van den Berg’s gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and stea
...more
Alison
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Best story collection I've read since How to Breathe Underwater or Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. Van den Berg's stories are beautifully written, perfectly structured, and it's only the very best story writers who can make you care deeply about characters in just a short number of pages. The best short stories feel like magic--something you can't really explain or break down--and these fit the bill. Took my breath away, especially "Antarctica" and "The Isle of Youth."
John Pappas
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The female protagonists of these stories resemble in purpose characters in a Pynchon novel- struggling to understand the world made from the intersection of their own past choices, and the indefatigable pressures of family, loss and love. Each story becomes a metaphor; as each woman searches for a lost loved one, a key to understanding a past relationship, or the meaning of a current one, they struggle to define themselves in the world, pushing out from, or remaining in, marginalized spaces in w ...more
James
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
These stories are at times compelling, interesting and funny but most of the time they make you feel that they could be written better. I don't know how to put it but there is this enormous dullness in van den Berg's style, which takes all the life out of her characters. Even though they are interesting and provoking, they become one and same in that they all act in some unimaginable, bizarre way at some point of the story. Or even worse, they look away or stare at somewhere. It gets tedious.

He
...more
Brianne Sperber
Highly recommended for fans of short stories and strong female characters. Laura van den Berg's women are dark and deeply moving. Fans of Blueprints for Building Better Girls or How To Breathe Underwater will enjoy this - especially if they like feeling a little unnerved.

These stories rarely feel like they have a conclusion and many end on a question - but they are nevertheless complete and immensely satisfying.

A must for fall fiction.
Emily
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was hooked by the first story in this collection. This and the title story are strong; they are less about relationships than about parallels left unbridged.

A lack of connection runs through the other stories with less success. The epigraph at the start of the collection reads “I felt I was playing a part in a movie with a plot unknown to me.” —Yoko Tawada. Lack of plot along with the lack of character depth and connection leave something… lacking.
Emily
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Somehow Laura van den Berg managed to link together random details that I thought were MY story (e.g., Hollywood, Florida and Appleton, Wisconsin both figure into this collection). She inhabits a lot of the same space that Karen Russell does, but I like van den Berg's balance of normal/fantastic/crazy a lot more.
Rando
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Is it normal to feel like you're a depressed middle aged woman with a crazy sister after reading this?

I'm infinitely sad I've finished the stories, I feel like the voice of van den Berg has burrowed into my brain and swallowed my psyche. Yes, anytime I have a thought, my internal voice sounds like the protagonists in the story.

Make it stahp.
Eric Sasson
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
The thing I love about Laura Van Den Berg's stories is how cinematic they are, how thrilling. She writes the kind of gripping tales that are not usually associated with "literary" fiction. The plots and characters are always exciting and mysterious. She's not much for experimenting with form, but that doesn't matter when you're delivering such juicy stories.
Susan Merrell
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Really surprising and original voice. The stories are conventionally made, in the best way, and the perspective from which each tale is told is unique and new. Highly recommend for anyone who is writing traditional short stories.
Jessica Lamothe
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a hard one to write as I thought the stories were very well written, but I think I am just not a fan of short stories! Every time I was just getting into it, the story was over. I wanted each one to be the start of a novel. They were also a bit depressing - very damaged characters.
Lindsay
Jan 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I loved her last book of stories, but some of these felt formulaic and repetitive to one another. The characters' voices seem to me to be very similar across most stories
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Book Keeping: The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg 1 11 Jan 30, 2014 10:56AM  
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Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida. Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth (FSG Originals, 2013), received the Rosenthal Award for Fiction from the America ...more
“I like having a job where I get to wear a mask all day.” 4 likes
“Over time, we became less sure we were something the other wanted to hold on to.” 3 likes
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