Somewhat underwhelming, but maybe any collection deemed "Best" is bound to set expectation too high. I grabbed this book off the display table becauseSomewhat underwhelming, but maybe any collection deemed "Best" is bound to set expectation too high. I grabbed this book off the display table because Tom Perrotta was the guest editor, and his stirring introductory essay reminded me why reading has always been one of my greatest treasures. Perrotta has been one of my favorites for years, ever since a close friend recommended Joe College, I've enjoyed almost everything he's written, and would count him as one of the bigger influences on my own writing. However, our taste in short fiction seems a bit different.
In Perrotta's remarks on "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank," he mentioned you "might catch the homage to Carver," which might be the biggest understatement of all. Besides the title, of course, the basic plot, two middle-aged couples get drunk and high at home and secrets are revealed, etc. I did think this one worked great, the examination of general of Jewish life in America v.s. Jewish life in Israel and cultural Judaism v.s. ultra-orthodox Judaism coupled with the specifics of four well drawn characters all of whom have a bit more going on than originally thought maybe for a great piece.
Jess Walter's "Anything Helps," about a homeless man trying to be decent father to his kid pulls at the heartstrings without being sentimental. You realize everyone begging for money at stop signs and subway stations is a real person, maybe with a family to care for, or a family back home, and how, at least for most of us, the only way to cope is too largely put them out of your mind or you'd be dragged down. The real trick in this piece is how you start believing this homeless guy can make it, and be a good dad, and then find out there are reasons he's in this position. Walter pulls this off well.
I enjoyed the quiet power of Carol Anshaw's "The Last Speaker of the Language." The brief story of the single mom of a precocious child, who having a destined for nowhere love affair with a married woman. "Paramour," by Jennifer Haigh intrigued with its set-up: a woman goes to see retrospective of a professor with whom she had something of an affair when she was nineteen. However, the ending,a car crash, felt like too much and didn't reveal anything new.
A lot of these stories jumped around from various viewpoints and took place over a longer period of time than the short stories of 20 or even 10 years ago. I'm feeling something of a traditionalist as neither Edith Pearlman's "Honeydew" nor George Saunder's "Tenth of December" nor Alice Munro's "Axis," really worked for me. In all three, the jumping between narrators or large jumps in time seemed to take away from the story. It's just not my cup of tea, as all three authors have written some of my favorite stories.
Roxane Gay manages to navigate treacherous territory in "North Country" as we have several overused short story tropes combined. Professors Behaving Badly with Mother Dealing with Miscarriage with Person of Color moving to White America "Michigan" with Intelligent, Educated Woman Slowly Falling for Honest, Hardworking Outdoorsy Man. But maybe those are common themes for a reason as the story moves quickly and sometimes quietly along. The ending didn't work for me, but the line "He fills all my hollow spaces," is probably never going to work for me.
Mary Gaitskill has a taut thriller of potential serial killer father and son, almost a slight twist on a Dexter prequel.
A good collection, but not great. If you're a fan of short fiction, check out collections by these authors. Walter and Saunders both have new ones out, and both contain stronger even stronger stories than the ones selected here. I suspect this applies to many of these authors.
Good story. Not as strong or as captivating as his later, more acclaimed work, but we do get the familiar structure of a Franzen novel. Probably too mGood story. Not as strong or as captivating as his later, more acclaimed work, but we do get the familiar structure of a Franzen novel. Probably too many POV characters and too much of a focus on the civic life of the power-player characters at the expense of family and personal life of these characters. ...more