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The Best American Short Stories Paperback – October 2, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Guest editor and acclaimed author Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers, 2011) has selected winning and wildly entertaining stories for this annual anthology series. Raymond Carver and David Foster Wallace are the totems of Perrotta’s literary aesthetic. Embracing both, he remarkably moves past the now-tired debate of minimalism versus maximalism, and unsurprisingly (and correctly) arrives at Alice Munro as the “acknowledged master” of the form. Munro’s superb “Axis” is a sparkling example of Perrotta’s platonic ideal of combining “amplitude and compression” in a “handful of tightly focused scenes.” The best stories here succeed in doing so, notably Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank.” A seductive and bemused peek into the backrooms of American Jewish anxiety (marital and otherwise), this gem deserves all the praise it is receiving. Among the many winners in the collection, Eric Puchner’s chilling and humane sci-fi tale “Beautiful Monsters” and newcomer Roxanne Gay’s “North Country,” a humorous, sexy, and melancholy take on the pain and absurdity of loss and isolation, stand out. Both shine as examples of Perrotta’s preference for “plain, artful language about ordinary people.” The Contributors’ Notes provide intimate first-person insights into the backgrounds and thoughts of the authors, enhancing the reading experience. --Jonathan Schwartz


"The best short storiees are small only when measured by the number of pages. Editor Tom Perrotta, best known for his novels Election and Little Children assembles a stellar collection of 20 stories that create their own worlds in 20 pages or less."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547242107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547242101
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I just finished reading The Best American Short Stories for 2012 edited by Tom Perrotta; series editor, Heidi Pitlor. The criteria for qualifying for this competition are that the story has been published between January 2011 and January 2012; publication is originally in American or Canadian periodicals; and the work has originally been published as a short story.

This year's compilation has some wonderful stories and some weaker ones. It's what I'd expect when someone goes through hundreds of stories and makes their personal picks. No one has the same taste as I do, nor would I expect them to.

Alphabetically, the stronger stories in the collection are The Last Speaker of the Language by Carol Anshaw. It is about a single mother raising a ten year-old parental child nearly perfect in her rare maturity. Mom has an alcohol problem and is out of work.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, comes from his collection of the same title. Two Jewish couples who have not seen each other in many years get together. One of the couples has become Hasids and the other couple are secular Jews. Like many Jews, they end up playing a game (which is not really a game) of who would you trust to hide and protect you and your family if there was another holocaust.

North Country by Roxanne Gay is a beautiful ode to love and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was so powerful that it brought goose bumps to my arms.

In Miracle Polish by Steven Millhauser, a man buys a bottle of mirror polish from a door-to-door salesman. The polish has potent, yet eerie powers. While it gives him hope and feelings of renewal, it pushes his girlfriend away.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This year's edition of The Best American Short Stories is another very good collection in that series. I certainly liked some of the stories better-- sometimes much better-- than others, but none of them could be called bad reading. I think this is because of the mindset of this year's guest editor, Tom Perrotta.

As he explains in his introduction, he attended graduate school in the 1980s, when Marxist criticism and post-structuralist literary theory were very much in vogue. That's when I attended grad school, too, though not at Syracuse with Perrotta. It's hard to believe it now, but no one could read anything at all without subjecting it to intense political analysis and seeing it through the filter of identity politics. It was at the same time heady and ridiculous. Heady because it seemed that we were the select few who had been given secret decoder rings that allowed us to discern what literature was REALLY about. Ridiculous because the obvious idea that stories should be about people living their lives very nearly vanished in the haze of lit-crit jargon.

Perrotta was saved. Today, as he says, "I like stories written in plain, artful language about ordinary people. I'm wary of narrative experiments and excessive stylistic virtuosity, suspicious of writing that feels exclusive or elitist, targeted to readers with graduate degrees rather than the general public, whatever that means."

And that's the filter he applied as he selected the stories in this anthology. As he admits, it came down to his opinions. He's right about that, but I think his opinions are, as he says, democratic. The discussions that characterized the boom in post-structuralist criticism in graduate schools are now twenty-five years in the past.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Contemporary short stories are not plot-driven. The classic short story by O. Henry, Poe, Mark Twain, Jack London or F.Scott Fitzgerald derives its structure from action/plot involving conflict. The action unfolds, usually sequentially, involving the reader in complications or suspense. The story resolves the conflict.

In contrast, the contemporary short story is more of a "slice of life." You might say that not much happens. It's more fragmentary, a character sketch, and shows possibilities but often has no clear resolution. This type of story leaves more room for the reader to insert his own conjectures and reactions. You can judge its effectiveness on whether the story evokes such responses. Does it involve the reader? Does it open your eyes to the circumstances of another time, place and person? Does it make you care about the characters and their lives?

If you don't expect the classic narrative structure, like Jack London's "Love of Life," "Best American Short Stories 2012" offers an outstanding collection of contemporary short stories. These twenty stories are a multifaceted array of characters and settings. Julie Otsuka in "Diem Perdidi" lets you share the life of an aging Japanese-American internment camp survivor. Miracle Polish" by Steven Millhauser deviates from the "contemporary" genre setting out more of an actual plot, albeit fanciful. Nathan Englander in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank," opens our minds to religious choices and courage. Eric Puchner's "Beautiful Monsters" is a standout. It removes us from the mundane by switching perspectives on Life. "Beautiful Monsters" merits many adjectives, among them: astonishing, appalling, moving, compelling, tragic.

"Best American Short Stories" is a variety pack of quality fiction. You may not like each of the twenty short stories in this collection, but you will likely find at least one yummy choice in this assortment.
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