Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ongoing source for lit fic fix

Book: The Best American Short Stories 2004

Author: various (editors: Lorrie Moore and Katrina Kenison

Published: Houghton Mifflin (2004)

Pages: 429

The Best American Short Stories series is an annual dose of nicely-written lit fic angst sprinkled with the occasional weirdo and mythical creature plunked into modern society. 2004's edition is no exception. 

Does that make it sound like all the volumes in the series? Well, it kind of is. Does that make it sound boring? Sure, it SOUNDS boring if you put it like that, but the stories are all of the amusing variety. And that is the key to lit fic: take a basic premise and find a (non-gimmicky) way to make it unusual enough to become interesting. Reading the Best American series does the hard work for the you and the me, dear reader, by having its guest and series editors read about a billion short stories over the course of the given year and picking out the best and presenting them in these nifty softbacks with minimal art. 

Standouts in this volume include:

  • a homeless Native American trying to raise money to buy back his grandmother's ceremonial clothes only to not realize how he automatically pisses away each dollar he gets when he does get money; first-person narrative is revealing in a way the character doesn't notice even though he's doing the talking
  • a teacher who gets her students to write their own evaluations; the unexpected reactions from the parents jar nicely with the teacher's idealism
  • little girls trying to win a Biblical Halloween costume contest by going as Salome and John the Baptist; I love how it's conveyed that the girls know enough that they're doing something wrong but not enough to know why they should be ashamed
Great series, good vintage. Bookshelf beside by 2007-2009 collection (to grow soon! I have money and a Barnes and Noble!)

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