I searched for the anthology The Best American Short Stories 2011, a series that comes out each Fall with a different guest Editor. This year, Series Editor, Heidi Pitlor, chose Geraldine Brooks, who was born in Australia, grew up in Sydney, and studied at the University of Sydney before entering the journalism master’s program at Columbia University. The Wall Street Journal then came knocking and Brooks spent time traveling to cover crises in the Middle East and other hot spots. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, her first novel, made a huge splash. I remember selling so many copies of it when I helped manage Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum, Idaho. Her novel March won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, an imagining of the life of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women as he experienced the Civil War. Was Geraldine Brooks up to the task? Yes: she chose very well.
In Ceiling, the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, takes a snapshot of a man in a marriage and a life unknowable. Set in Nigeria, where the man became wealthy almost overnight, he now wonders where following this path has really brought him. If there is one story that is the reason you should buy this anthology, Ceiling is it.
His parlor tricks seemed cheap, and I hated the easy way he’d endeared himself to mom. — from Housewifely Arts by Megan Mayhew Bergman.
A Bridge Under Water, Tom Bissell’s newlywed tale, begins with a description of how a couple’s eating habits differ; the author lets us eavesdrop. The couple is on their honeymoon in Italy, visiting churches, and are eventuallly asked to leave a synagogue. That should be enough to make you want to read this funny and enlightening story.
Jennifer Egan captures a slice of NYC college life in her story Out of Body but keeps this one current and interesting beyond the ubiquitous “I’m in college” set-up. The first line says so much: Your friends are pretending to be all kinds of stuff, and your special job is to call them on it.
He was a tiny, thoughtful, buck-toothed boy of certainties. — from Free Fruit for Young Widows by Nathan Englander.
Allegra Goodman’s La Vita Nuova was one of the golden 20 chosen, and this is the second time she’s made an appearance on my book recommendation list. Her novel The Cookbook Collector is unforgettable as well. La Vita Nuova explained how to become a great poet. This line is the key to an unhappy woman’s life.
What, in your hollow, dried-up receding, made you feel, suddenly, alive? — from Ehud Havazelet’s story, Gurov in Manhattan. Read it and you’ll meet Lermontov, a wolfhound with so much poise.
Caitlin Horrocks’ icy tale, The Sleep, is one of the best stories I’ve ever read and it began slowly, like falling asleep, lulled me in, and revealed the voice of relief. One line stays with me: “I barely remember what our life was like before. I remember being cold.”
Soldier of Fortune, by Bret Anthony Johnston, is a tale where the past links a distant future.
I see a tall woman standing over me, making me drink milk still hot from the cow. — from Foster, by Claire Keegan. I let this story’s leisurely pace roll over me and was well rewarded. Keegan is a very impressive writer.
Sam Lipsyte’s The Dungeon Master is a brilliant recreation of a not-so-distant past, with kids playing a Dungeon role-playing game, and never really understanding one another in and outside the game. When the dialogue line “No hard feelings.” comes, I turned right around and read the story again!
When Carlos asked why I would risk my whole career for Peter Torrelli, I told him he had to understand that in those last three years of high school, Peter and I were the only two gay boys in Chicago. — the first line from Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart by Rebecca Makkai.
Elizabeth McCracken gets to the heart of a shabby, eccentric rental property and the landlord’s reasons for keeping it just the way it is in her absorbing tale simply called: Property.
The Phenomenon: The Phantoms of our town do not, as some think, appear only in the dark. — from Phantoms, by Steven Millhauser. This story has an unusual structure and it really works. Knowing when to break the rules is a gift.
Ricardo Nuila’s nostalgic story, Dog Bites, takes a father and son through a turning point and then time skips ahead and breaks your heart.
“For an eiii-dee,” they were saying.” We need to see Lisette Mulvey.” — from ID, by Joyce Carol Oates. This opening puts a young teenage girl into a horrible situation as she has to leave her second-period class to go find out what they meant.
To the Measures Fall, by Richard Powers, should be on everyone’s list of short stories to go read immediately. He tells the story of one woman’s entire lifetime in a finite short story and makes any reader complicit as a second puppeteer since To the Measures Fall is written in the form of an adult you-choose-what-happens-next story!
Mornings he finds Mrs. Kang upright in bed, peeling invisible ginger with an invisible knife. — the first showing line from The Call of Blood, by Jess Row.
George Saunders is my new favorite author after I read his twisted, engaging, feverish, dystopian short story, Escape from Spiderhead. In this created world, a world not unlike our own in so many ways, people are offered an alternative to prison.
The full story was this. As a young boy growing up on Taborská Street in Brno, Czechoslovakia, my father would have to go out to the rabbit hutch in the evenings to tend the rabbits and, on Fridays, kill one for dinner. — from The Hare’s Mask by Mark Slouka.
I hope you enjoy this terrific anthology of short stories as much as I did. I am always reading, beginning new books while finishing good ones. Here, I recently recommended the twisty mystery In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder along with the music from Kate Bush’s new album 50 Words For Snow — a perfect blend of songs to listen to while reading Ryder’s novel. Kate Bush’s music travelled to a very lush place. If you love Kate Bush’s music, as I do, you will understand how this conceptual Art album is a crowning achievement, and if you are unaware of Kate’s music, you can discover her genius for yourself. Look for it!