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The Best American Short Stories 2002 Hardcover – October 15, 2002
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In her opening remarks to The Best American Short Stories 2002, guest editor Sue Miller notes the difficulty of reading fiction produced during 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks. She also remarks that by the time she had finalized her 20 selections, this act of reading had restored her faith both in fiction's significance and its ability to tap into timeless themes. The 2002 anthology includes stories best described as realist fiction or traditional fiction, many set in contemporary times. The tales range from E.L. Doctorow's "A House on the Plains," a murder set at the turn of the century, to pieces with more recent settings, like "Puppy" by Richard Ford, which shows how a New Orleans couple deals--or doesn't deal--with the appearance of a stray dog. Both Jhumpa Lahiri's "Nobody's Business" and Edwidge Danticat's "Seven" deftly portray the disconnection a semi-assimilated Indian American and Haitian American couple experience both as partners and as U.S. citizens. Leonard Michael's "Nachman from Los Angeles," in contrast, adds some levity to the mix. Miller adds in her preface that maybe next year the tales will depart further from tradition, but judging from this volume no departure is necessary: the selections take the reader on a delightful journey through some of America's best contemporary writers. --Jane Hodges
From Publishers Weekly
Timeless yet time bound, these excellent stories inhabit the past as solidly as the present, ranging from Midwest murder around 1900 in E.L. Doctorow's wonderful but deadly "A House on the Plains" to the 1937 Hindenberg tragedy in Jim Shepard's ingenious "Love and Hydrogen." Almost every story concentrates on producing perfect grace notes of characterization, with individual epiphany or anti-epiphany favored over plot and experimentation. An exception is the Shepard story, which describes the love affair of two male crewmen on the doomed Hindenberg a setting that contrasts sharply with the semi-anonymous backdrops of other stories. Most entries are fairly traditional in structure, but in the semiromantic "Digging," Beth Lordan displays a talent for dynamic shifts in time and place. Multicultural voices provide moving and deeply felt, if more conventional, gems, including Edwidge Danticat's "Seven" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "Nobody's Business." The most humorous entry is Leonard Michael's "Nachman from Los Angeles," the witty story of a rich Arab prince and a ghostwritten term paper. An impressive eight of the 20 stories chosen by editor Miller come from the pages of the New Yorker; Zoetrope is in second place with two entries to its credit. But no matter where they were first published, nearly all of the stories chosen are stellar examples of each writer's work. If a comforting sense of tradition and consolidation pervades this anthology, it is cause for praise, not criticism.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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However, if you want to read The new Yorker just buy The New Yorker. If you want a variety of short stories from a variety of magazines, you won't find them in this book.
What you will find is a nice bibliography of all the magazines read by the editor and considered for publication in this touted series. As a new author, this is good. To me, it's a nice list of suggestions about where to submit stories. Even though those stories probably won't make it to this series, the bibliography suggests a degree of clout. I think this is important given how many magazines out there; the honed-down list can be useful. (This isn't the only place to find such a thing, but it is a way to see which magazines the editors of this series consulted.)
Another book, the annual Pushcart Prize selection, works similarly. The list of publications *they* used gives us a good lesson in small presses that aren't so small as to be ignored, yet too small to be viewed by _this_ series or a wide readership.
Basically, I feel this is a book for writers more than for readers. We learn what the editors are reading, where they are reading it, and what they are looking for. If you are a reader looking for a short story collection, I'd say skip it - despite, I'm sure, the many hours of reading and thought put in by the editor.
Sue Miller wonders in her introduction if her personal imprint will be evident in her selections. She thinks not. However, there are several stories about animals, particularly cows and puppies, and about women unhappy or unsure in their new marriages. Most stories are traditionally told, rich in detail, with straightforward language. Stories from The New Yorker are well represented (eight out of the twenty), but Melissa Hardy's "The Heifer", originally published in Descant, is as engaging as those eight. Famous writers - Edwidge Danticat, Alice Munro, E. L. Doctorow - mingle with the lesser known talents of Mary Yukari Waters, Meg Mullins, and Karl Iagnemma. This is part of what makes this series so enjoyable, that new voices can stand proudly next to the masters'.
Especially when paired with the more experimental Pushcart Prize anthology, this book gives a good report on the trends of contemporary fiction. Look for forthcoming novels from some of the younger writers, as this series often brings them to the attention of book editors and agents.
I highly recommend The Best American Short Stories 2002 for anyone who enjoys reading short fiction. From Michael Chabon's "Along Frontage Road" to Richard Ford's "Puppy" to Mary Yukari Waters's "Aftermath", this book delivers, if not the promise of the title, then its spirit.