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Best New American Voices 2006 Paperback – October 3, 2005
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
This "best" annual seeks outstanding short stories by participants in the nation's 370-plus college and university writing programs. So far each guest editor has selected some writers who go on to great success. Last year, for example, Francine Prose selected Rattawut Lapcharoensap, whose first book, Sightseeing (2004), is a big hit, and Eric Puchner, whose debut story collection is forthcoming. The short story owes its continued vitality to writing workshops, notes this edition's astute guest editor, Jane Smiley, who also states, "I never write short stories, and as a reader, I find them a little scary." She also avers, "Short stories are hard to write." That said, Smiley has chosen extraordinarily well crafted and intense examples. In Jennifer Shaff's "Leave of Absence," a young PE instructor mourning the death of her parents discovers Spock, of Star Trek fame, in her basement. Andrew Foster Altschul writes with high-voltage insight about a man working as a guard in a woman's shelter. The aftermath of Vietnam, twins, a failed marriage, love, unexpected rescue--all are dramatized in unpredictable and indelible ways. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"This book reminds us of the range of imagination and experience informing fiction today."--Chicago Tribune (Editor's Choice)
"These stories serve as a heads-up for readers interested in emerging talent."--The Hartford Courant
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Boy, was I wrong. Granted, some of the stories show signs of amateurism; but then I wondered, "would I even think that if they weren't in this book?" I don't know. Other stories to me seemed to come from tried and true "professional" writers (whatever that means), and I was surprised to know that the authors were just emerging.
Overall, I like this book even better than some of the Best American series I've read, and almost every story grabbed my attention from beginning to end. Sometimes I feel jaded about the Best American stories, which the series editor supposedly picks without knowing the author's name but which happen to feature particular authors over and over again. Sometimes, especially--it seems--depending on the series editor, I think, "what in the world is this story doing in here? It's not even good." But the stories in Best New American Voices were obviously chosen without regard for who the author was, as long as she or he was in a writing program or workshop.
I think my favorite story in this collection is "Alice's House", by Jamie Keene from the University of Oregon. It's about a man who has recently divorced his wife and is getting ready to sell their house and move in with his girlfriend, when his ex wife comes to his house for an unannounced midnight visit. I also liked "Lyndon", by Amber Dermont from the University of Houston, about a young woman whose father recently died. The narrator continues her and her father's tradition of visiting the birth places of U.S. presidents with her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship.
Some of the stories feature quite unique formats, such as "The Jupiter's In", by Sarah Blackman from the University of Alabama, in which each scene starts and ends with missing words or letters, much like the sign on the run-down inn. This story features colorful, unique characters and has a distinctly southern feel. "Begin With an Outline" by Kaui Hart Hemmings from Stanford University is about a narrator attempting to tell an emotional story in a forced outline format. The setting for that story, or at least its background, is Hawaii, and the imagery is very vivid and gripping. "Useless Beauty, or, Notes on Esquire's 'Things a Man Should Never Do After the Age of 30'" by Albert E. Martinez from New Mexico State University (of particular note to me, since I live in New Mexico) is a story told interspersed with excerpts from the article, such as "own a futon," "live with someone you don't sleep with," and "use the word 'party' as a verb." The story itself involves a guy who just turned 30 and who is still hung up on his ex girlfriend. It is set in San Fransisco and, to me anyway, is a commentary on the late 20's/early 30's urbanites who live there.
There are many stories in this collection told from the point of view of a child or young adult, such as Michelle Regalado Deatrick's "Backfire" and Matt Freidson's "Liberty." There are also many stories about the death of a parent, such as Jennifer Shaff's "Leave of Absence", Amber Dermott's "Lyndon", and Sian M. Jones' "Pilot".
All the stories in this series fit the title, being fresh and invigorating reads. I hope to find and read more books in this series and would recommend it to anyone who likes short stories and anyone who wants to read the newest works coming out of America's writing programs.
For more book reviews and other posts of interest to readers and writers, please visit my blog, Voracia: Goddess of Words.