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18 Lies and 3 Truths:
2007 StoryQuarterly  Annual


Edited by Tom Jenks, Carol Edgarian, M.M.M. Hayes 

The point is that death accumulates. If matter stays and the earth re-creates out of the dead, then every atom carries in every incarnation another death upon its back and every live and dead thing in this room has died over and over again. "

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Before 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 fiction and 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? 

My second 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. 

Janet Burroway may 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 omission. Extra Days, is an affecting tale of a mother's love and concern for her 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 front. 

Jhumpa Lahiri's 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 members. 

Although not 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. Solo Notes, Gail Godwin's journal, provides insight into the process of novel-writing as well as into the writer's life. 

So: American fiction? 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 that.

Tania Hershman is 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.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

PublisherNarrative Magazine

Publication Date: Dec 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?No

Editors: 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. 

Carol 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.

Authors: Richard 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 Mellas, Lorrie Moore, Lore Segal, Hasanthika Sirisena, Don Waters, Rick Bass, Gail Godwin

If you liked this book you might also like....

Lorrie Moore "Self Help"

Jhumpa Lahiri "Interpreter of Maladies"

Joyce Carol Oates "Faithless"

Robert Olen Butler "Tabloid Dreams"

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