The Best American Short Stories 2007
Edited by Stephen King
Finished: Jan. 23, 2008
Reason for Reading: weekly reading of short stories for short story Monday.
First Published: 2007
Genre: anthology, short story collection
Comments: An interesting collection of short stories by different authors with no common theme. The stories range from the mundane to the strange, from love stories to death stories. For me the best stories in the collection were in the first half of the book leaving the second half very underwhelming for me. None of the stories stick out as being absolutely fabulous but there are some that were very good. Overall, a decent collection of stories most suited to the literary reader. Follows are my brief synopses of each story (with no spoilers) with my thoughts.
1. Pa's Darling by Louis Auchincloss - set in the sixties, a woman reflects on how her larger than life father overshadowed her life. Readable, but didn't really do anything for me.
2. Toga Party by John Barth - This story takes place in an affluent gated retirement community and centers around one aged couple who are invited by the new people on the street to their toga-themed housewarming party. I really enjoyed this. The characterization of this seventy-something couple was wonderful and I found it to be a fast-paced read with a startling climax. I would be interested in reading more by Barth.
#3. Solid Wood by Ann Beattie - An elderly man and his sister have dinner with the recent widow of his best friend. There are some undercurrents that come to light for the reader as the dinner progresses. I didn't enjoy this one at all. It basically had no plot and, frankly, was boring. There is more to the story than appears at first but I prefer to read and think "wow, that was good" rather than "hmm, I wonder what this means".
#4. Balto by T.C. Boyle - A man and his 12-year-old daughter are on their way to court. This story recounts the events that lead up to the trial. The plot is more involved but any further description would contain spoilers. I was eager to read this story as Boyle is on my list of authors I'd like to read one day and this was my first sampling of his. I wasn't disappointed. This was a compelling story with a fast-paced read. I loved this one.
#5. Riding the Doghouse by Randy Devita - An eerie, disquieting story of father and son. A man remembers back to the year he was twelve and accompanied his trucker father for a week in the summer. The uneasiness in this story slowly builds and I really enjoyed it.
#6. My Brother Eli by Joseph Epstein - A man's younger brother (in his seventies) commits suicide and the older brother tells the story of his life. He was a famous writer, self-centered, egotistical, married five times with various children the brother has never met. The author contemplates whether an 'artist' is entitled to special rights and should be excluded from normal, decent behaviour because of their 'gift'. This story was longer than the others in this collection I've read so far and by far the best up to this point. It made me wish for a whole novel about these characters.
#7. Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You? by William Gay - I can't give a plot summary of this because I haven't a clue. I don't know what it was about or what it meant and what's with all the dialogue and no quotation marks? Ugh.
#8. Eleanor's Music by Mary Gordon - This was beautifully written and a haunting story. Eleanor is 51 and though she was married once she has lived with her parents for the last 18 years. They lead a lovely, simple old-fashioned life. Even their language to each other is quaint, as if from another generation. At first I felt nostalgic for their life and thought it was beautiful but slowly an uneasiness arises as we realize Eleanor's life is not what it seems on the surface. Then something drastic happens to her whole conception of her life and what she does and doesn't do after that event leaves this as a haunting tale.
#9. L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story by Lauren Groff - The title calls this a love story and it is that but it is also a tragedy of epic proportions. When I finished reading this my first thought was a stunned, "Wow." Set in 1918 this is the tragic love story of a former Olympic medalist swimmer and a young woman stricken with polio. The best story in this collection so far.
#10. Wake by Beverly Jensen - An interesting story of family dynamics. A brother and sister accompany their father's coffin as they bring him home for his funeral.
#11. Wait by Roy Kesey - Not impressed with this one at all. A bunch of people wait in an airport terminal as their flight is delayed over and over again.
#12 Findings & Impressions by Stellar Kim - I quickly realized this story was about someone dying of cancer so I skipped it as I don't read about that topic.
#13 Allegiance by Aryn Kyle - Glynnis and her parents have recently moved to America from England and she finds herself in the position of new girl at school. An unpopular girl has made moves to befriend her but Glynnis must choose between being unpopular also or making the right moves to become one of the popular crowd. There also is an unraveling story of why the parents moved to America and why the mother is so embittered.
#14 The Boy in Zaquitos by Bruce McAllister - A man gives a talk to a class about how he used to work for the government spreading deadly diseases in other countries. Strange.
#15 - Dimension by Alice Munro - skipped. This was an Andrea Yates type of story, only the father was the murderer, and that's not a spoiler.
#16 - The Bris by Eileen Pollack - skipped. A dying parent story.
#17 - St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. This is one of my favourite stories in the collection. Young werewolves are sent to the 'Home' to be raised by nuns and taught to behave like their human side and forget their wolf side.
#18 - Horeseman by Richard Russo - A University professor grapples with what her life has become over what she could have become.
#19 - Sans Farine by Jim Shepard - This concerns the man who was the executioner at the time of the French Revolution. The men in his family had been executioners for seven generations, only now he is facing problems as his wife does not agree with the royal executions. Just ok.
#20 - Do Something by Kate Walbert - Basically this was just a depressing story of a woman whose son died of leukemia and she has turned to making protest demonstrations on her own.