by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson
their stirring introduction to the latest addition to the Best American
series, Heidi Pitlor and Stephen King make much of how many thousands
of stories they read to put this collection together; their
explanations of the selection process certainly add to the fun of
deciding whether each story present is really the best America has to
offer. Pitlor talks about being “drawn to stories that transcended
something” while King describes looking for “something that comes at me
full-bore, like a big hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky.”
Is it unfair to say that after all this build-up I felt underwhelmed?
There was some great writing here but these were not always great
stories: unlike the editors I only seldom felt either transformed or
blown out of the sky.
story, Louis Auchincloss's Pa’s
Darling, illustrates this perfectly. Technically it was
strong, with a very polished, period voice, but to me it felt lifeless.
At the beginning the main character asks of her father:
“Did he really
value me very much? Did he even value women very much?”
spends the next 11 pages answering her own question in the resounding
negative, there is no sense of revelation or change in the
worked considerably better. I enjoyed the oddball
melancholy of John Barth's Toga Party,
particularly the understated
yet perfect ending, which cut through sometimes excessive verbiage to
draw the story together. Eileen Pollack's The Bris was a
bonkers-tender look at a father-son relationship and the lies we live
so easily – half screwball comedy, half existential tragedy. TC
a gorgeously written story of childish intensity and betrayal,
kept me hooked to the final line:
“...and the bank of windows so
brilliant with light you would have thought a bomb had gone off there,
and looked directly at her father.”
A more surreal
represented by Karen Russell's St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised
Wolves, a brilliant fable on human relationships told
through a group
of wolf children being slowly and painfully naturalised. William
Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You abandoned
sumptuous brownstones and campus settings favoured by many stories to
paint a grim portrait of crystal meth addiction in a Southern
wilderness where every action has a mythic dimension.
the title that made this a difficult book to get to grips
with. America is a big place, and there was a sense that this
collection was trying not only to represent the best but also to
showcase that diversity. A worthy aim but it perhaps resulted in a lack
of energy and coherence, which I have not noticed in other (wilfully
diverse) collections of American shorts. Ultimately I was left with a
handful of brilliant stories out of a collection that, while finely
written, did not convince me it represented America's best.
writing shorts as an excuse not to redraft The Novel and now can't kick
the habit. Born in Dublin, she lives in London where she works as a
writer and editor. Her short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, LITRO,
The New Writer and www.pulp.net. The Novel is coming along nicely
despite the lure of more concise forms.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Book Website: TheBestAmerican ShortStories.com
Editor bios: Stephen King
has written over 60 books, including Misery, The Green Mile and Lisey's
Story as well as around 400 short stories, including “The Man in the
Black Suit”, which won the 1996 O Henry Prize. Heidi
Pitlor was raised in Concord, Massachusetts. She received her BA in
political science from McGill University in Montreal, and her MFA in
creative writing from Emerson College.
She is a former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Company, and she is
the author of the novel The Birthdays, published in 2006 by W. W.
Norton. She lives outside Boston with her husband, daughter, and son.
Authors: Louis Auchincloss, John Barth, Ann
Beattie, T.C. Boyle, Randy DeVita, Joseph Epstein, William Gay, Mary
Gordon, Lauren Groff, Beverly Jensen, Roy
Kesey, Stellar Kim, Aryn Kyle, Bruce McAllister, Alice Munro,
Eileen Pollack, Karen
Russell, Richard Russo, Jim Shepard, Kate Walbert
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