by Tania Hershman
I had even opened this anthology of eighteen short stories and three
non-fiction pieces about writing, the front cover confused me. It's
called 18 Lies and 3
Truths, with the subtitle "Great American
non-fiction." But this is an anthology from StoryQuarterly, a
formerly annual print literary magazine, now an online magazine and one
which I was under the impression, having submitted stories myself,
accepted writing from writers around the globe. So why is their annual
anthology only American fiction?
question followed swiftly on: What is American fiction? I kept this at
the back of my mind as I read the book, which contains eighteen short
stories from over the years of StoryQuarterly,
including Jhumpa Lahiri's first published story, the wonderful The Treatment of Bibi Haldar,
Lorrie Moore's second published story, How to Talk to Your Mother: Notes,
which to my mind is a piece of classic short fiction.
There are a few
other big names (Robert Olen Butler, Joyce Carol Oates, T C Boyle), but
what intrigued and entertained me the most were the writers I hadn't
heard of. This is the joy of a great anthology: it introduces you to
new writers and sends you eagerly off to read more.
Tessa Mellas' story (the second with Bibi in the title) Bibi from Jupiter,
is a witty, wry tale of a college student whose roomate is an
extraterrestrial. Far from science fiction, this is a poignant story of
outsiders, insiders, family, sex and anatomy. Bibi becomes popular with
the boys, to the bemusement of her roomate.
I'm not sure
what they see in her. She isn't at all pretty. I mean, I don't think
so. We have very rigid aesthetics here, right? How can you count a
green earless girl without eyelids as pretty?
Grinder by X. J. Kennedy,
whose work I had never come across before, was another
favourite of mine. Brod, an
advertising copywriter, chucks it all in and begins a new life as an
organ grinder with Gina, the monkey. When Gina become the second female
in a love triangle, Brod is forced to make a choice.
be the author of seven novels but I had never read any of her stories
and I am grateful to this anthology for rectifying that
Days, is an affecting tale of a mother's love and concern
apparently-depressed ten-year-old son. Another highly moving mother
story is the surreal Mother
in the Trenches, by Robert Olen Butler, in
which a mother decides to go and visit her soldier son on the
story demonstrates clearly why her recent collection
went straight to the top of the New
York Times bestseller list. The
writing is beautifully self-assured, the third person plural narration
feels right, the tone is just quirky enough, the Indian setting doesn't
overpower the plot, which deals with what ails poor Bibi Hadar, a young
girl with an indefined “condition” who is mistreated by her family
short fiction, I will briefly mention the “Three
truths” part of this anthology: Rick Bass' essay, Dangers, provides
advice to writers that
most will have heard before but it is always worth repeating. Robert
Olen Butler's short short essay, A Short Short Theory
is food for
thought about what distinguishes a prose poem from a short short story.
Gail Godwin's journal, provides insight into the process of
novel-writing as well as into the writer's life.
Is this simply a description of the writers, all of whom live in the
United States, even if they weren't all born there. Or is it a genre, a
category, like Science Fiction? If so, I can't see what these eighteen
stories have in common that would place them on the American fiction
shelf. Perhaps I am making too much of this, but I would far rather
that this entertaining anthology which contains some delicious
surprises be subtitled “Great short fiction” and let's leave it at
editor of The Short Review. Her short stories have been published in
various literary magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Tania's first
short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, will be
published by Salt in 2008.
Publisher: Narrative Magazine
First anthology?: No
Tom Jenks, Carol Edgarian,
Editor bios: Tom
Jenks's articles, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in
Esquire, Harper's, Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, Conde Nast's
Traveler, Manhattan, Inc., Missouri Review, Columbia, Reasons to
Believe (St. Martin's Press). The Encyclopedia of Literary Biography,
and elsewhere. He edits Narrative magazine and is a former fiction
editor of Esquire, advisory editor The Paris Review, senior editor at
Scribner's, and literary editor of Gentlemen's Quarterly.
Edgarian edits Narrative magazine. She is co-editor (with Tom Jenks) of
The Writer's Life: Intimate Thoughts on Work, Love, Inspiration, and
Fame from the Diaries of the World's Great Writers (Vintage Books).
She has written articles and essays for Vogue, Allure, and Travel &
Leisure, among others. Her work is available in translation and in a
number of anthologies.
Bausch, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Kevin Brockmeier, Janet Burroway, Robert
Olen Butler, Elea Carey, Alice Hoffman, Charles Johnson, X. J. Kennedy,
Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, Pamela Painter, Hannah Pittard, Tessa
Moore, Lore Segal, Hasanthika Sirisena, Don Waters, Rick
Bass, Gail Godwin
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