Best American Short Stories of 2005

Yeah. I’ll admit it. I read Houghton-Mifflin’s Best American Short Stories every year.

This series began in 1915. I’ve been reading it faithfully since, I think, 1984. I still remember the total shock I felt when I first wandered into, and got ambushed by, a Raymond Carver story. That was in one of these books. Cynthia Ozick, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, T. C. Boyle — I met them all here. I love it that the book’s appearance has never changed — it’s still charmingly under-designed, feeling more like a galley than like a finished book, which is perfectly okay with me and probably helps maintain the unusually reasonable price of 14 bucks.

I thought I’d report occasionally on the 2005 edition, which is edited by Michael Chabon. I’m only three stories in, so far, and Alice Munro has let me down. I don’t hate her sad-sack mother-daughter story, Silence, but it lacks that Alice punch. I find it to hard to believe this is the best story she wrote in 2005.

Bohemians by George Saunders is absolutely wonderful. First good thing: the funny eastern-european accents (the main characters are, literally, World War II refugees from Czech Bohemia, living in an American slum). Second good thing: the sweet retarded neighbor character, “Eddie the Vacant”, beautifully executed. Third and best good thing: the truly heartwarming twist ending, straight outta O. Henry or a Rob Reiner movie or a Christmas special or something else corny but good like that.

Saunders’ and Munro’s pieces were both originally published in the New Yorker. J. Robert Lennon’s Eight Pieces for the Left Hand comes from Granta, and it’s even better than the Saunders piece. Lennon is kind of the “Crash Test Dummies” of the short story scene. His vignettes are neat, perfectly clipped, and totally bizarre. The eight stories that make up his piece are semi-connected by theme (people are enmeshed with each other), by style (high ironic whimsical) and by plot element (car accidents). In one of them, a guy is sick of getting his mailbox smashed by teenagers in cars, so he packs a mailbox with thirty pounds of cement, causing a death and a flurry of lawsuits that all get dismissed. Lennon does this one in four paragraphs. In another, a bunch of elementary school kids put on a play and experience deep existential disconnection when the teachers try to get them to call each other by character names instead of their real names. The kids can’t do it, and at the last minute the teachers tell the kids to just use their actual names on stage, but this just confuses the kids more and, in the end, the narrator explains that most of the children grew up to be mentally ill.

I don’t usually like two out of three stories in any Best American Short Stories, so please don’t expect future postings to be this complimentary. Let’s face it, I go to the authors I like first. There are some real snoozers down the road.

8 Responses

  1. Mmm mmm mmm mmmYou mean you
    Mmm mmm mmm mmm

    You mean you haven’t been reading it since its inception?

  2. Hmmm …. Yeah, I remember
    Hmmm …. Yeah, I remember the first time I read a Miguel de Cervantes story …

  3. Well, you know, the Man of La
    Well, you know, the Man of La Mancha is pretty catchy…

    But back to the Best American Short Stories… remind me how they select these? Do they have to be approved first by Dave Eggers before being considered? Or does Chief Darling Chabon get full reign? While Alice Munro is certainly laudable, isn’t she in pretty much every edition of this book?

    In other news, after looking at the contents of this, I have this odd reaction of seeing the name “Joyce Carol Oates” in a collection of “short” stories. While I know JCO is certainly capable of writing a short story, she seems to favor the art of the long, drawn out novel.

  4. Well … actually (wouldn’t
    Well … actually (wouldn’t you know it), Dave Eggers has his own version of this series, the Best American Non-Required Reading. Which is also, I hate to admit, quite good.

    The selection process, I think, is that the series editor Katrina Kenison sends the guest editor a package of stories, and the guest editor does the final choice.

    Joyce Carol Oates, yeah, she is never at a loss for words, as far as I can tell.

  5. Yeah, I know all about his
    Yeah, I know all about his “series”… but I still like to throw Eggers around as joke bait because he’s really just too good at it. Being the joke bait that is. Between the two, I’d pick “Short Stories” any day.

  6. Long Live the Short
    Long Live the Short Story!

    There was some talk a few years ago that the short story was dead. You might have heard it, it was kind of muffled, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they said. Maybe someone was speaking of the quality of short stories, not the quantity, because surely those magazines like Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and others still exist. I remember that Playboy had a reputation for publishing good short stories. I don’t know if they still do. In fact, I should buy one to find out. A good research topic: Which of the 10 best sex periodicals publish the best short stories. Indeed.

    When I was a kid, I especially liked short stories because I didn’t have to commit a long time to each one. I remember even looking at the table of contents and picking the shortest ones to read, which is kind of wrong and lazy, but that’s what I did. I would think a lot of people would prefer collections of short works in their fast paced lives.

  7. in the slingblade
    in the slingblade voice…

    Dontchoo say nuthin bout Dave Eggerrrs, Mmhmm . . .

  8. I write short stories in
    I write short stories in kannada a language spoken by 50 million people in India.In the last 100 years shortstory has remained the most creative literary form. This is because writers have been able to use the best of both western and eastern narrative tradition. Further they also use the elements of oral tradition As a result shortstories in kannada can handle all the complexities of modern living-as much as a novel. For interested readers ican post some stories with introduction.

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