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The Best American Short Stories 2007 Hardcover – October 10, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wonderfully eclectic, The Best American Short Stories 2007 collects stories by undeniable talents, both newcomers and favorites. These stories examine the turning points in life when we, as children or parents, siblings or friends or colleagues, must break certain rules in order to remain true to ourselves. In T.C. Boyle's heartbreaking "Balto," a 13-year-old girl provides devastating courtroom testimony in her alcoholic father's trial. Aryn Kyle's charming story "Allegiance" shows a young girl caught between her despairing British mother and motherly American father. In "The Bris," Eileen Pollack brilliantly writes of a son struggling to fulfill his filial obligations, even if this requires a breach of morality and religion. Kate Walbert's stunning "Do Something" portrays one mother's impassioned and revolutionary refusal to accept her son's death. And in Richard Russo's graceful "Horseman," an English professor comes to understand that plagiarism can reveal more about a student than original work.

Questions for Best American Short Stories Series Editor Heidi Pitlor

Each year's edition of the Best American Short Stories is edited by a prominent guest editor who makes the final selections for the collection--for 2007, it's Stephen King. But working alongside the guest editor is the series editor, who reads thousands and thousands of stories all year long and passes the best on to the guest editor. For years, Katrina Kenison held that one-of-a-kind role for the Best American Short Stories, but in 2007 she handed the reins over to Heidi Pitlor, a former editor at Houghton Mifflin and a novelist in her own right (her debut, The Birthdays, came out in 2006). We asked Pitlor a few questions about what many would consider a dream job.

Amazon.com: Congratulations: you now have one of those jobs that must make people say to you, "Oh my goodness, you just sit around reading stories all day! What a life!" Please dispel all relevant myths.

Pitlor: The key is to have young children. I have one-year-old twins, so I have yet to hear the question above.

I used to imagine Katrina Kenison, the former series editor, swinging in a hammock on a sunny day (there was always a hammock in my mind, and always sunshine), lost in her short stories, the twitter of birds somewhere nearby, a bonbon in her hand. I can assure you that none of the above applies to my day-to-day life--and I'm guessing it didn't apply to hers. Reading this volume of fiction requires intense concentration, large amounts of coffee, total quiet, a babysitter for my kids, and sadly, no bonbons, at least not on a regular basis. Still, I have no complaints. I do love my job and being able to read this much.

Amazon.com: Can you explain the process of selecting the best American short stories? What's your relationship as series editor with the year's guest editor (in this case, Stephen King)?

Pitlor: Magazines that publish fiction send copies to me. Literary journals, mainstream magazines, you name it. I probably receive three to four magazines a day. Typically, I read all of this fiction--more specifically, the short stories (no novel excerpts allowed) written by Americans or those who have made the United States their home. I choose 120 that I think are the best, and pass them along to the year's guest editor.

Stephen King wanted to read along with me, and so he went out and bought tons of magazines himself. We spoke quite often about what we'd read. But typically, I go off on my own for most of the year, pull the stories, and then work with the guest editor at the end of the year to help him or her choose the final twenty for the book.

Amazon.com: You're a novelist as well as an editor. How do you read all these different (or depressingly similar) voices every day and keep your own voice strong when you sit down to imagine your own work?

Pitlor: Good question! When I'm writing regularly--and I must admit that I need to get back to this--I try to write each day before I begin reading. Again, coffee plays a big role. I get up, take care of the twins for a few hours until the sitter comes, then take typically my third cup of coffee out to my office, which is above my garage. I write first, so that my mind is clear of other writers' voices. I try not to think too much when writing a first draft. For me, thinking sometimes leads to inadvertent stealing. If I'm trying to sort out some sort of puzzle in what I'm writing, it's too easy to remember another writer's approach to a similar one. If I can write a first draft quickly, I'm better off.

Amazon.com: In his introduction to this year's collection, King writes that many of this year's submissions felt like "copping-a-feel reading"--stories driven not by a need to be told, but the desire to show off for editors and other writers (rather than regular old readers). Did you have the same reaction? What was your sense of the year's reading?

Pitlor: I'll put it a different way than he did. I often felt that writers put on airs. To me, it's apparent when writers aren't being true to themselves, especially in their writing voice. I want to forget that I'm reading--unless being aware that I'm reading is exactly what the writer is after. But typically, I want to lose myself in the words, to forget that someone is behind them. I want to believe the characters more than that.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of stories that did feel true and urgent, that did take me out of myself for a brief while.

Amazon.com: Story writing seems to ride waves of influence, driven at various times by the models, say, of Updike or Barthelme or Carver. Is there a writer now who you feel is the most influential in the stories you read?

Pitlor: Carver still seems to be a big influence--I'm not sure his influence ever waned. Hemingway too, as well as Chekhov, Faulkner, Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Tim O'Brien. No one model comes to mind more than the others at this point.

Amazon.com: What story was your most exciting discovery of the year? (And did King like it too?)

Pitlor: There were many for both of us--this is the best part of the job. He and I frequently enthused to each other about this or that new writer. But also about great stories by more familiar writers--that can feel like a discovery too. I don't know, though--naming the most exciting writer feels a bit like admitting you have a favorite child.

From Publishers Weekly

King admits in his introduction that he prefers all-out emotionally assaultive stories to those that might appeal to his critical nose. Yet King's selections are right at home among those of recent BASS editors Lorrie Moore, Michael Chabon and Walter Mosley: John Barth's darkly comic take on aging and mortality; a child's unforgiving view of her alcoholic parent from T.C. Boyle; an exploration of the grief of a crystal meth addict by William Gay (a writer King notes is a relatively obscure American talent); Lauren Groff's piece about a polio survivor learning to swim during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic (based loosely on real-life Olympian Ethelda Bleibtrey); Roy Kesey's imagining of an airport terminal as microcosm of global politics; and Karen Russell's halfway house for the human children of werewolves (their condition skips a generation). Stories drawing on horror and on Maine add a personal King touch to this year's cull of 20, taken from among the 4,000 that series editor Pitlor read last year in periodicals. The book reflects the variety of substance and style and the consistent quality that readers have come to expect from the series, now in its 30th year. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • Series: Best American
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (October 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618713476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618713479
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm a HUGE Stephen King fan. Always have been, always will be. I am also a fan of The Best American series. So, when I discovered that King was the editor of this year's Best American Short Stories, I was duly excited. (Of course, I had to remind myself that he didn't actually write these stories.) Therefore, I was disheartened when a friend whose opinion I value had no interest in this year's collection because she "hates Stephen King." Now, I know she meant his writing - or, more accurately, genre writing (as opposed to literary fiction) because I don't think she's ever actually read anything by King - but how should that reflect on his ability to edit a short story collection.

Well, Stephen King is an excellent editor. One of the things I love about him is that he understands why people read. Therefore, he understands what is wrong with the American short story these days. Writers "write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines...not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn't real reading...In 2006 I read scores of stories that felt...airless, somehow...written for editors and teachers rather than for readers." Beautiful - couldn't have said it better myself. (And King says it better in the book - notice all those ellipses?)

The stories in this collection were written for the reader. All collections such as these are somewhat arbitrary. You might have a different list of stories that you loved. Yet many of these stories - "Balto," "The Toga Party," "Eleanor's Music," and others - achieve greatness. They stick in your mind long after you've read them. With the modern American short story, I too often find myself asking: "Didn't I read this one already?"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While not all stories will please everyone, the 2007 edition has some strong stories. Here is a brief breakdown of some highlights:

1. T.C. Boyle "Balto": A teenage girl must choose between speaking the truth and defending her alcoholic emotionally-arrested father in a tale that recalls Faulkner's "Barn Burning."

2. Joseph Epstein "My Brother Eli": Epstein poses the question does the artist enjoy higher privileges than the rest of us in a story that must be about Saul Bellow.

3. Stellar Kim "Findings & Impressions" A widowed father, also a radiologist, meets a breast cancer patient who makes him confront love, death, and loss in a non-sentimental, moving portrait. The story recalls Thom Jones' "I Want to Live."

4. Aryn Kyle "Allegiance" An elementary school girl learns how desperate we all are to conform and belong to the group in a story that focuses on the social politics of grade school.

5. Alice Munro "Dimension" An abused woman can't break the bond between her and her murderer-husband in a tale of self-abnegation that reminds me of a Joyce Carol Oates essay "They All Just Went Away."

6. Karen Russell. "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves": Wolf-girls are raised by nuns and learn that price one must pay to "become civilized."

7. Richard Russo. "Horseman": A middle-aged lit professor is revealed as a fraud and a cipher with nothing to show for her scholarship other than her blind ambition.
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Format: Hardcover
What I thought I would get with this edition of The Best American Short Stories, guest edited by Stephen King, was a look into the stories that inspire Mr. King. In the introduction he claims, "There isn't a single one in this book that didn't delight me, that didn't make me want to crow 'Oh man, you gotta read this!' to someone." While there were some very good stories in here, there were also some that made me shrug and wonder how many pages remained to the next story.

In his introduction, Mr. King does talk about the declining readership and dwindling markets for short fiction. I believe the short story's days are numbered and well not quite as pessimistic he does talk about how hard it is to find short story magazines in bookstores and how difficult it is to get motivated to write for a dwindling audience and how many stories out there seem to be designed to be in the mold of previously published stories rather than are excited page-turners. He's right - the market is incestuous enough that the readers are the writers who want to be read - by other writers.

There were some highlights in the volume -

My Brother Eli by Joseph Epstein - Eli was a famous writer, a self-centered wrecking ball who destroyed lives. His older brother recounts Eli's life and contemplates the question, do artists have special license for bad behavior.

L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story by Lauren Groff - this story was truly beautiful. A polio victim falls in love with her swimming instructor, a former Olympic medalist. It's set among the class disparity and political turmoil of 1918.

Wait by Roy Kesey - this is a fantastical story of the terrors of humanity brought to the microcosm of a group waiting for a much delayed plane flight out of a war-torn country.
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In the introduction to this book Stephen King writes that every story makes him want to crow: "Oh man, you've got to read this." He sets the bar too high. I only found four stories that I would describe as "Oh man you've got to read this." In addition there were nine worth reading (some barely so), and six that just wasted my time. All of the writing was good though I discovered questionable punctuation, overused similes, similes that didn't make a bit of sense, and even some bad grammar. Reportedly, editors of literary magazines are super picky and use the slightest excuse to reject a manuscript. Obviously, established well known writers get a pass.

Here's my report card for every single story in the book rated from best to worst. The A's can be described as "Oh man, you've got to read this." The B's are worth reading. The C's and below were a waste of my time.

"L. Debard and Aliette: A Love Story" by Lauren Groff. Grade-A A bizarre love story circa the flu epidemic of 1918. It's enjoyably twisted and includes a castration scene.

"The Bris" by Eileen Pollack Grade-A A dying man wants to be circumcised on his death bed so he can be buried next to his wife. A realistic look at how anal some orthodox rabbis can be. Also, the story has some depth.

"Findings and Impressions" by Stellar Kim Grade-A Strong story about a dying woman and a radiologist who can't endure losing another loved one.

"Balto" by T.C. Boyle Grade-A A drunk fails as a parent. The final courtroom scene is the perfect ending.

"Sans Farin" by Jim Shepherd Grade-A An executioner during the French Revolution can't escape his profession.
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