When T-Pain’s installment of NPR’s long-running Tiny Desk Concert video series went live in October 2014, it inspired a burst of hugely admiring and mildly condescending praise. (The verbiage ranged from “eye-opening” to “blows the entire world’s mind” to various iterations of “awesome” to “surprisingly, behind all that Auto-Tune he’s a phenomenally talented singer.”) With almost 11 million YouTube plays and counting, it’s easily the franchise’s single biggest installment, topping other high-profile visits from Anderson .Paak and even Adele.
Shepherded by NPR Music’s Bob Boilen (the performance space is still his actual desk), the series launched in 2008 and is now closing in on 650 performances, from the xx to the National to Jessie Ware to Common to Chris Stapleton. In July, Chance the Rapper made a highly touted and very reverential appearance, seven-member backing band in tow. “I’m a big fan of the series,” Chance began. “And I didn’t know it was actually, actually an office. So this is very uncouth.” Then he did an achingly gentle version of “Juke Jam,” covered Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go,” and recited a poem he’d written that morning, cheerfully restarting it after being interrupted by some sort of office intercom announcement.
There’s something transgressive about touching other people’s clothes—especially dead people’s clothes. Some would even call it spooky. As a costume curator and fashion historian, I have colleagues who swear that they have felt, and even seen, ghostly presences in their museums’ costume-storage areas. It’s easy to get the chills in those cramped rooms, which are climate-controlled to the ideal temperature and humidity for textiles, not for humans. I myself have not encountered any phantom fashionistas, but once I opened a box and a fox stole—complete with eyes, paws, tail, and teeth—seemed to leap out, making me scream so loudly that two security guards came running. Occasionally I’ll find a stray hair, a frayed hem, or a telltale stain on an otherwise pristine garment carefully packed away for posterity in acid-free tissue paper and remember, with a jolt, that there was once a living, breathing, sweating human body inside it—a body that has been still for up to hundreds of years.
Concluding a trilogy is a tricky business — not least when its first two installments have been justly honored with the highest awards in genre fiction. N. K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate, like The Fifth Season before it, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel last weekend, just in time to pave the way for The Stone Sky with well-deserved acclaim.
But the fact that The Stone Sky sticks the landing of this astonishing trilogy with timeliness and rigor is the smallest, simplest thing I have to say about it. The gratitude and love I feel for these books, and for what The Stone Sky adds to the triptych, is staggering.
Paul Yoon’s new collection, “The Mountain,” is not what you’d call delightful — the stories are sober and the prose is quiet, yet in that is the howling of the human condition that makes the best short fiction stand out. Only six stories long, it is also a small collection and an almost unfailingly tight one from Yoon.