Every year, I look forward to BASS with breathless anticipation. As a great lover and writer of the short story form, reading this collection is the holy mecca of genius and inspiration. My favorites over the years have included Stephen King's 2007 edition, and last year's (2010) Richard Russo's edition, so when I found out that Geraldine Brooks--author of March and A Year of Wonders--was 2011's guest selector, I was psyched.
However, while there were a handful of truly exceptional stories in Brooks' line-up, I was left with an overwhelming sense of "is that all there is?" It's true: 75% of the collection left this reader with the question "this was the best of 2011?" and it is this question that dampens the magic of BASS that I have come to expect year after year after year. The stories in this 75% camp were, to put it mildly, without spark or drive--they were missing that "gem" that makes me want to read a story compulsively, lap up its voice, revel in its structure.
However, rather than spend the next five minutes dissecting these stories, I'd rather focus instead on the 15% of excellence, including "Housewifely Arts" by Megan Mayhew Bergman; "La Vita Nuova" by Allegra Goodman; "The Sleep" by Caitlin Horrocks; "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart" by Rebecca Makkai; and "Foster" by Claire Keegan. These are absolute reads for anyone who loves short stories, and for anyone who writes in the form.