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The Best American Short Stories 2016 Paperback – October 4, 2016
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Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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"Its strongest installment yet... Díaz’s compilation is the most diverse and inclusive entry to date of any of the major annual story collections... Essential for every student of the short story form." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"This year’s collection brings together fine stories by famous fiction writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Karen Russell... [while] a great deal of the magic is generated by the appearance of less familiar names... Each of these outstanding stories is, as Diaz observes, a chance to listen 'to some other lone voice struggling to be heard against the great silence.'” —The National Book Review
From the Inside Flap
If the novel is our culture s favored literary form, upon which we heap all our desiccated literary laurels, if the novel is, say our Jaime Lannister, then the short story is our very own Tyrion: the disdained little brother, the perennial underdog. But what an underdog, writes Junot Diaz in his introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2016.
From a Nigerian boy s friendship with his family s former houseboy to a sweatshop girl s experience as a sister wife, from love and murder on the frontier to a meltdown in the academe, these stories, for Diaz, have the economy and power to break hearts bones vanities and cages.
Ten years into her role as series editor, Heidi Pitlor confides, A great pleasure of my job is the rush that comes with discovery...I m reading a new story and not checking how long it is or what time I have to pick up the kids. I m reading and feeling and thinking, and, if I m lucky, laughing too. I m not working at all. A great story has that power: it removes you from your life. It lifts you away from a while. Junot Diaz and I found much to discover this year. "
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Top Customer Reviews
The book opens with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's story about the deep and painful history between a middle class Nigerian boy and his parents' house servant. Adichie is the author of Americanah, and one of the major themes in her stories is the aching tug between what your family and community expects of you, and what you expect of yourself. Apollo is a touching, honest story and the masterful, nostalgic way Adiche tells it demonstrates her skill yet again.
Ravalushan by Mohammed Naseehu Ali, originally published in Bomb blows my mind. 5 stars. It's the story of what happens to a group of neighbors during the little known coup d'etat in Ghana in 1981. Visercal and gutting.
Garments by Tahmima Anam, originally published in Freeman's. 5 stars. Ostenibly about garment workers in Dhaka who implement a scheme to marry the same man for the social stability a married status will provide them, the story is about friendship between three women whose lives are constantly tenuous and fraught.
Wonders of the Shore by Andrea Barrett, originally published in Tin House, 4 stars-- is the history of victorian naturalists and best friends who grow apart during their seaside vacation as one of them comes into her own in the local intelligentsia, while the other has a doomed fling with a painter. The prose is melancholy and staid, it reads like a lovely watercolor painting.
The Bears by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, originally published in Glimmer Train--3 stars A woman takes a vacation in the country after a miscarriage. After the first three stories, which were terrible and beautiful explosions, The Bears' slow plot and staid pastoral setting left me wanting more. It is a very reflective piece, and will perhaps appeal to fans of traditional literary fiction.
The Great Silence by Ted Chiang --originally published in flux, and then in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. 5 stars I first read this piece in F&SF, and it brought tears to my eyes. It did again. This is one of the best stories of our age, not just of 2016. Through the perspective of a parrot, it shows the incredibly sad, destructive human instinct to reach outward into our solar system, seeking connection, even as we ignore the plethora of intelligent life on our own planet, and destroy it. The parrot who speaks in this piece is not angry, which is what gets to me most--his last line, as he anticipates his species' extinction, is "You be good. I love you."
The Letecian Age by Yalitza Ferrerras, originally published in the Colorado Review. 5 stars. Heart-crumbling unlikely love story between an astrophysicist and a geologist, narrated in terms of geologic events. Despite my terribly boring description, this has more heart and more life than most of the love stories I've ever read.
For the Love of God, for the God of Love by Lauren Groff, originally published in American Short Fiction. 4 stars A beautifully written story with a unique style. Two husband/wife pairs of old friends await the arrival of the babysitter. This is one of those stories I find hard to describe--in terms of plot, it's about gradual discoveries the characters make about themselves, but it's also about life and death and the world. Just read it.
The Suitcase by Maron Hadero, originally published in Missouri Review. 4 stars. When Saba is preparing to return home from her visit to Addis Ababa, her relatives argue over what she should bring back with her, which gifts for their relatives deserve room in the suitcase. Such a clever way to show the whole lives of generations, and the incredible difference between their lives and Saba's.
Treasure State by Smith Henderson, originally published in Tin House. 3 stars. A pair of brothers decide to strike out on their own when their abusive father vows to return to the house upon his imminent prison release date.
Pat + Sam by Lisa Ko, originally published in Copper Nickel 4 stars. Pat and Sam are the married couple in Ko's novel, and this is the story of how they met. It traces the first exciting flushes of love, to the fear of alienation in a very honest, empathetic way.
Cold Little Bird by Ben Marcus, originally published in the New Yorker. 3 stars. What do you do when your ten-year-old son decides he no longer wants your affection?
The Politics of the Quotidian by Caille Millner, originally published in Zyzzyva 4 stars - Things are not going well for the philosophy grad student at the heart of this story. A woman of color, she is constantly made to feel as if she doesn't belong in the field, and her baffling encounters with her students, her peers, and the administrative staff illustrate her decision to leave.
Bridge by Daniel J. O'Malley, originally published in the Alaska Quarterly Review. 3 stars A little boy thinks he witnesses an old couple jump together off of a bridge behind his house, but as he plumbs his memory, the boundary between fact and fantasy blurs.
The Prospectors by Karen Russell, originally published in the New Yorkers - 5 stars. Russell is one of my favorite authors, and she's done it again in this story about two best friends during the New Deal era of public works. They accidentally end up in a ski lodge full of ghosts who demand that the girls convince them they that are alive. As always, Russell's prose is magic, her descriptions otherworldly, and the overall effect is magisterial.
On This Side by Yuko Sakata, originally published in Iowa Review - 4 stars. When Toru's old schoolmate shows up out of the blue, transitioned now into being a woman, he lets her stay and must deal with his guilt for the way he treated her in school. The rich setting and deep, unspoken currents of emotion drive this story.
Gifted by Sharon Solwitz, originally published in the New England Review - 4 stars, about a woman whose son is diagnosed with cancer after a large tumor is found in his stomach. Solwitz began her larger project as her own son was dying of cancer. As in the best, most human stories, a tragic event is merely a chink through which we can enter into the complex relationship between family members, the reasons and history of affairs, the rivalry between sisters. A very human and unforgettable story.
Secret Stream by Hector Tobar, originally published in Zyzzyva - 3 stars. Nathan follows a mysterious woman as she maps the subterranean flow of one of the oldest natural rivers in L.A.
Williamsburg Bridge by John Edgard Wideman, originally published in Harper's. 2 stars I'm sure it's a good story. I just can't get into a story without much of a plot. These are the ruminations of a man before he jumps off of the Williamsburg bridge.
A great gift for any lover of stories.
Guest editor Juno Diaz’s introduction is solipsistic and at times high-school-punk offensive. He talks about himself for almost six pages and then grants three undistinguished pages to the writers whose work he’s selected.
After reading the first three stories, I had the uncomfortable feeling that as an editor Diaz was so focused on being inclusive that he forgot to focus at all on narrative quality.
Then, at page 34, along came Andrea Barrett’s exquisite “Wonders of the Shore,” which is still resonating for me days later. That story alone justifies time spent with the book, and other fine stories follow:
Smith Henderson’s “Treasure State” will have readers laughing — yes, and out loud — over two run-away teen-agers who rob houses while their owners are at funerals.
Ben Marcus’s chilling story “Cold Little Bird” may cause childless readers to be grateful for their condition. Making a reader’s skin crawl isn’t easy, and I admire any writer who can do this as well as Marcus.
In 2013 MacArthur Fellow Karen Russell’s richly imagined and detailed “The Prospectors,” we get a character named Eugene de la Rochefoucauld who “pronounced his name as if he were coughing up a jewel.” That inventiveness and precision of language is absent in many of the other stories in this volume.
Some of the stories, particularly Daniel J. O’Malley’s misconceived and undeveloped “Bridge,” seemed utter failures for this reader.
I give the book three stars, but I give five stars to a handful of the stories in it, most notably Andrea Barrett’s.