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The Best American Short Stories 2004 (The Best American Series) Hardcover – October 14, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Moore takes a tried and true tack in this current edition of the popular series, choosing solid stories that rely more on careful character development and seamless writing than on inventiveness or stylistic flash. The results are occasionally stodgy, but there are plenty of satisfying entries, if few startling ones. Family relations are a recurring theme, and two stories of note unearth family ghosts. In John Edgar Wideman's "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," a man is enmeshed in the life of his deceased friend's jailed son; in Trudy Lewis's "Limestone Diner," a grandmother comes to terms with her past through the tragic accident of a local girl. Most stories are firmly rooted in the U.S., but a few roam cautiously afield. In "The Tutor," set in India, Nell Freudenberger explores the dynamics of an expatriate father and daughter relationship; "Mirror Studies" by Mary Yukari Waters takes place in Japan and interestingly weaves in monkey studies. The selection favors well-known writers, including Alice Munro, Annie Proulx and John Updike, and some readers may wish for a more varied lineup—the New Yorker is the source of eight of the 20 entries—but there's no arguing with the power of most of these offerings by the heavy hitters of the contemporary canon.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
In her introduction to this gem among annual story anthologies, Moore says the story is the "Napoleon of the narrative world," a "writer's intimate response to a world (as opposed to a novelist's long creation of a world)." Of her selections, she notes "their imaginative sources . . . seemed not casual but from the deep center of a witnessing life and a thoughtful mind." These stories challenge us to grasp the lives they figure and to reckon with their implications, the scope of that necessary effort especially palpable in the exceptional longer stories by Stuart Dybek ("Breasts") and Alice Munro ("Runaway") but visible throughout. The narrator of Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," homeless for six years, seems to spin ceaselessly away from redemption, but in a pawn-shop window glimpses his grandmother's decades long-lost regalia, with its hidden yellow bead, the family signature, and a part of his identity, soon to be reclaimed. James O'Laughlin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I will also warn that, since interpreting works of art is subjective, others will have different reactions to the stories in this volume. My interpretation of the choices that Lorrie Moore made in putting this volume together was that she erred on the side of including instantly recognizable (but therefore not terribly innovative) stories by well-known authors, as well as including lengthier selections. Although the selections are made blind, without knowledge of the author's name, the pieces by Edward P. Jones, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, John Updike, Mary Yukari Waters and John Edgar Wideman are all very recognizable via their subject matter and writing styles. Length, meanwhile, negates two of the main attributes of a good short story: brevity and pithiness. E.B. White, who always advocated using as few words as possible to communicate an idea, would not be pleased with all of Moore's selections.
My favorite story in the 2004 volume is Thomas McGuane's "Gallatin Canyon", a true masterpiece of a short story written in the O. Henry style. Not a word is wasted, and every seemingly innocent or minor event quickly builds towards a life-or-death conclusion that exposes the nature of the main characters. It is a model for how to apply the classical short story form in the 21st century. The most innovative story is Stuart Dybek's "Breasts", which is truly (as Lorrie Moore so well characterizes) a Quentin Tarantino film transformed into short story format. However, like a Tarantino film, after all the violence has ended and the last joke has been played out, I find myself asking "yes, but what is the point?". Other notable stories, I felt, were T. Coraghessan Boyle's suspenseful modern day working-class romance "Tooth and Claw", and Edward P. Jones' "A Rich Man", which presents a view into the culture of inner-city Washington D.C. that has produced, among other things, the TV images of Mayor Marion Barry smoking a crack pipe.
My least favorite stories in this volume were Trudy Lewis's "Limestone Diner", which I felt was instantly forgettable, and, I'm sad to say, Annie Proulx's "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?". Normally I really enjoy Ms. Proulx's work, but I felt that in this story she was just painting by the numbers, by invoking too many clichés: the Vietnam War as a conscious-raising event, the evil energy companies who are even more damaging to the environment than cattle-herding ranchers, and even a homosexual son who falls for the beefcake ranch hand.
All in all, the 2004 edition of the Best American Short Stories serves up a wide variety of different slices of present-day American life. While not the best volume in the series, it is well worth reading.
When I had recovered my breath, I challenged Lorrie Moore in no small way. I mean to say I began at the beginning of the volume with Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem". (Published in The New Yorker - crow is good with ketchup.) After the first page I realized I should have started this anthology from the beginning. "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" is a devastatingly wonderful story. And had I read it first I STILL would have had "Docent" to look forward to.
I skimmed the table on contents - Annie Proulx and John Updike? What are these two lumbering giants doing in here? (I am a student of both authors.) Updike is probably in here because he's old and they're just doing him a favor. WRONG! "The Walk with Elizanne" is not only one of the finest Updike stories I've ever read; it is one of the best STORIES I have ever read! Let none of us question the Master's work. Updike hits one way out of the ballpark with this story. Thank you Sir.
As of yet I have not read much more but the news about this volume had to be told. If it only contained these three stories (and who knows what other gems sleep within?) it would have been well worth the asking price. Buy it, read it, put it in the pile you would save if your house were on fire.
many pieces seems for literature critics only.
about 30% of them is pretty good. you can find the trace of new century. Anyway the real good novels should appeal to both general readers and critics.