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The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories Paperback – August 10, 2004
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The works that editor Ben Marcus has collected in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, while diverse in their stylistic methods, are uniformly accomplished. An almost confoundingly cerebral and brilliant novelist and short story writer, Marcus is a genre unto himself, a linguistic alchemist not primarily known for spinning yarns. It's to Marcus's credit that the stories in this anthology span a wide swath of American writing, not just the outer reaches of narrative invention. In his introduction, he calibrates our literary compass, proclaiming:
Stories keep mattering by reimagining their own methods, manners, and techniques. A writer has to believe, and prove, that there are, if not new stories, then new ways of telling old ones.
The collection includes 29 of these new ways of telling stories. Herein are experiments with form by David Foster Wallace and Joe Wenderoth, flawless executions of realism from Mark Richard and Jhumpa Lahiri, and stories that waver in what could most easily be described as parallel realities. The granddaddy of this latter category, George Saunders's "Sea Oak," brilliantly fuses the inherent humor of male stripping with the undead. Elsewhere Gary Lutz proves himself to be one of our foremost artists of the sentence in "People Shouldn't Have to Be the Ones to Tell You," and Christine Schutt serves up "You Drive," an elusive piece unsettling with undertones of father-daughter incest.
The varied treasures in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories accelerate outward into new modes of American writing as if from a radiant nucleus. While each story is daring in its own right, the most daring feat of all might have been including them all under the same cover. --Ryan Boudinot
"Writers are reaffirming tradition, ignoring it, or subverting it," Marcus notes in the introduction to this wide-ranging collection of stories from contemporary writers. Including writers such as Rick Bass, David Foster Wallace, and A. M. Homes, Marcus has collected quite a diverse group of talented authors. Jhumpa Lahiri's offering, "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinner," from her acclaimed collection The Interpreter of Maladies (1999), is the story of a how a young girl is deeply affected by Mr. Pirzada, a friend of her parents, and his separation from his wife and seven daughters, who are caught in the middle of the Indian-Pakistani conflict. In Lydia Davis' "The Old Dictionary," the narrator realizes she handles a delicate old dictionary more carefully than her own young son. In Stephen Dixon's "Down the Road," a man tries to carry his lover when they both can barely continue their long journey. Different readers will likely prefer some selections to others, but all will have to agree that Marcus has collected a respectable sampling of some of today's finest writers. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Thus far I only read half of this collection, the reason being some of the authors I already knew well (DFW, A.M.Homes, Mary Gaitskill) and the other being, having read some of the new names here, I went hunting, resulting in a tsunami of new books.
This has meant time lost in recent months with George Saunders (both Pastoralia and Civilwarland in Bad Decline), Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged Everything Burned), Brian Evenson (Last Days) and Matthew Derby (Super Flat Times).
(The diverse connections also led to reading David Ohle's The Age of Sinatra and The Pisstown Chaos and finally getting to Donald Barthelme).
I had already consumed Ben Marcus' all too small output with enormous relish. The Age of Wire and String, Notable American Women and The Father Costume have all shot to my top 50 books - as a stylist he is incomparable and his is an imagination fertilized by the richest dung, the most fecund darkness. (As a creator of strange worlds, he is up there with that other maestro of Surrealism, Steve Erickson - Arc d'X, Days Between Stations etc. or the sadly missed J.G. Ballard.) Thus I would read anything he recommends. (Yes, I trust every word from Ben Marcus's rotten, filthy heart [apologies to Michael Marcus]). His introduction to this collection is worth the price of admission alone.
I tend more towards the surreal than the real, which can taint ones approach enormously. Reading George Saunders and Wells Tower I was utterly seduced by their language, but these are writers of what might often be broadly termed `reality'. They bare their enormous hearts openly on the page, often with heartbreaking honesty. They are both writers of the highest order, but they are also weighted with a sense of reality - beautifully rendered, an marvelous flights of fantasy, but without the madness of a Ben Marcus or a Mathew Derby.
It is telling that the two authors - Marcus and Derby - studied together. Super Flat Times was published in 2003 while Notable American Women appeared in 2002 and both books have a fascination, nay, obsession with language as a visceral force. Like Marcus' first book, The Age of Wire and String, Derby's book is ostensibly a collection of short stories, but in a strange way both can be read as novels about decidedly odd worlds.
Intriguingly, cultural commentator Neal Pollack describes Super Flat Times as a "bold step forward in science fiction." It's a strange term to use for Derby's book. There is science here, but it's a very weird version; there are machines that process meat (the only edible food source left) and clouds are treated with behavioral chemicals. [...]
But Derby's book is decidedly post-apocalyptic. Thus it could slot into the bookshelf alongside Marcus' The Father Costume, J.G. Ballard's Hello America, Denis Johnson's Fiskadoro, Samuel R. Delaney's Dhalgren, Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon, Steve Erickson's Our Ecstatic Days, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crate, Philip K. Dick's Dr Bloodmoney, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the truly, truly weird Extinction Journals by Jeremy Robert Johnson. These are all books where the world has been irreparably changed and the survivors must find new ways to make do. This is Dystopian fiction rather than Science fiction and both Marcus and Derby have found new poetry with which to describe it.
Genre also becomes slippery picking up Brian Evenson's Last Days. Ostensibly this is a crime thriller, but that is just the beginning. It is equally an exploration into cult mentality when the dismembered detective protagonist, Kline, must infiltrate a bizarre `church' which takes literally the New Testament notion that you should cut off the hand that offends you... and much more if need be.
This is dark, dark noir, profoundly paranoid and bursting with Holy Wrath. The only other `crime' writer I have come across that comes close is Jack O'Connell (who really should have been in the Anchor anthology but who, for some reason, keeps slipping through the cracks). O'Connell's world, in such books as Word Made Flesh, carries a similar fascination with warped religiosity, but Evenson, with a background in the Mormon Church, takes notions of feverish, obsessive belief into even darker realms.
Ben Marcus, in editing the Anchor Anthology, has supplied us with a guidebook into a new world. To be sure we can see hints of many precursors: Pynchon, Dick, Barthelme, DeLillo, Ballard. But there is a freshness to this grouping that more than proves that the future of American literature is in more than capable hands.
The Caretaker by Anthony Doerr is the best of the bunch here.
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender is excellent
Sea Oak by George Saunders ... wonderful!
The others are great. There is really no bad stories in the book!
But these are style samplers, especially for known writers like Wallace, Lutz and Holmes; they deliver. Or maybe re-deliver, as their work has been released in many editions. Good price, and getting better daily, it seems. It's a sampler; so sample.