Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Best American Short Stories 2011

edited by Geraldine Brooks (book) and Heidi Pitlor (series)
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

This book presents 20 stories originally published in US or Canadian periodicals between January 2010 and January 2011, culled from 120 by author Geraldine Brooks. After a foreword and an introduction, by the series editor and the book editor respectively, in which they both discussed the "sameness" of short stories, I knew I was in for a unique collection.

Like any collection, there were some that I hated and some that I loved. Most I liked, in some form or another. Mostly, I admire the form of the short story and how an author can say so much in so little space where every word counts and not an image is wasted. So while I never rate a collection highly if I rate it at all (because I wouldn't read the whole collection from cover to cover again), I really enjoy the time spent dipping into these collections. (After all, even if I really hated a story, I've discovered an author to stay away from!)

Of the stories that stood out to me, I enjoyed "Property" by Elizabeth McCracken, which was bittersweet but the first story I really connected to, and "Phantoms" by Stephen Millhauser, which was deliciously creepy without being horror. Honorable mention goes to "The Sleep" by Caitlin Horrocks about a town that decides to hibernate, and which just begs for discussion - I asked by English major brother to read it because I wanted to see what he came away with. But my absolute favorite of the collection was "To the Measures Fall" by Richard Powers. Its format is really unique, using second person and questions at the end of each section that are reminiscent of English tests. This could have distracted me from the story itself, except for the premise: you discover a used book that eventually becomes part of your life, even though its meaning and your responses change over time. I could relate so well that it doesn't matter that the "you" in story is quite a bit older than me and has a life ultimately different from mine. That experience is one I can understand.

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