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New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2007 Paperback – August 14, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The 21st edition of Algonquin's signature anthology is not the series' strongest, but it's consistent and entertaining. Unlike some previous editions, the majority of the stories have something to do with the geographic South. Joshua Ferris's "Ghost Town Choir," set in Florida's Big Coppitt Key, begins with a son's witnessing a single mother's breakup rage, and also shows off a writer's ability to violate most of the rules of short fiction by using dual points of view. The tabloids inform Holly Goddard Jones's "Life Expectancy," which opens on a high school basketball coach's affair with a sophmore, and the haunting and horrifying portrait of a homicidal maniac in "Beauty and Virtue" by Augustín Maes is the strongest offering in the collection. Although it's the least overtly southern story in the book, Daniel Wallace's short vignette about marriage and perception of beauty is touching. The remainder, while always rewarding, tends to drift into stylistic showboating or to lack a deep connection to their backgrounds and settings. Nevertheless, editor Jones (All Aunt Hagar's Children, etc.) has brought a sharp eye to a venerable tradition, stewarded by series editor Kathy Pories.
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I cannot ascertain what criterion Mr. Jones used to make his selection of stories from the South, whether the story had to be set in the South, whether the author was born in the South, whether the writer now lives in the South, whether the fiction was published in a Southern journal or whether the writer had once flown into the Atlanta airport. In the end it probably isn't that important as the South has changed drastically in the past twenty-five years, It's a little like breaking an egg. We don't get it back again the way it was. Rick Bass says, for instance, that the "Old South not so much was giving way to the New South as, instead, to the No South." George Singleton opines (p. 297) that enough has been written about both the Old South and the New South and that he needs to write about the New, New South. That may indeed be true; on the other hand, there are enough freaks here to make Flannery O'Connor look down and smile from her Catholic heavenly mansion. The list includes Jehovah's Witnesses, a goat man, a boy snake-handler, a murderer, a robber, a sinning minister, a man who dates women with deformities and missing appendages, et al. Of course there is intergenerational sex and incest and the obligatory dog story.
For my dime, the best story here is the intense and gripping "Beauty and Virtue" by Agustin Maes who was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, grew up and now lives in California and freely admits that he has never been to southeastern Missouri, the setting for this grisly tale of murder, incest and fratricide. Another fine story is James Lee Burke's "A Season of Regret" when a retired college professor, confronts a gang of Aryan Brotherhood Bikers. Allan Gurganus (last year's editor) in "Fourteen Feet of Water in My House" writes a story about a flood that predated Katrina and has a strange feel like "The Swimmer," written by Gurganus' former mentor John Cheever. Cary Holladay's "Hollyhocks" is all about the youngest in a large family of brothers who is secretly in love with (he thinks) his sister-in-law. Finally R. T. Smith's "Story" meets Mr. Jones' requirement that the character must change, if just a little, and is about a cancer survivor who is "reading an unremarkable magazine story" when a burglar breaks into his home.
Collections like this one are really important for at least two reasons: we get to read short stories that we probably would never find in the various journals and magazines from which the editor picks them, and we run across writers whose other works we want to read.
Treat yourself to Mr. Jones' harvest of best stories.
Jones searched through a vast number of short stories from Southern American writers, whittling his choices down to the final 18 which appear in this edition,with stories coming from publications including "The Georgia Review," "Harpers," and "The Idaho Review."
Jones has captured an ideal balance between the harsh and heartwarming sides of America's South. In "The Ice Garden," we are brought into the world of a stereotypical Southern lady, whose etiquette and poise are being left behind in a modern world, but who holds onto the vestiges of her pride with a fierce determination, while all those around her conform to the changing times.
In "Fourteen Feet of Water In My House," we see examples of how the human spirit can rise above any setbacks, and how the spirit of a Community can embrace those who might otherwise be overwhelmed in the face of disaster.
Conversely, in stories such as "Goats" and "Beauty and Virtue" we see how cruel people can be to humans and animals alike, and get something of an insight into the nature of these people.
It is this mix of love, hope, cruelty and bitterness that gives the reader a feel for the true sweetness and grittiness of The South.
Each story invites you into a different aspect of Southern life, as if it is a stranger inviting you to visit with them for a time, and learn of their ways.
Armchair interview says: A Southern 4-star read.