Dan's Reviews > The Best American Short Stories 2011

The Best American Short Stories 2011 by Geraldine Brooks
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's review
Feb 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in August, 2011

Stories so taut they twang
The most compelling part of the 2011 American short story anthology just may be the introduction by this year’s editor, author Geraldine Brooks.

She writes about short story form: setup, reveal, reversal and release. “If one element fails, the edifice crumbles.” Brooks writes that she likes stories that, well, tell a story.

She doesn’t care for short stories that treat plot “as if it were a hair in the soup.” If a story is bleak it ought to have clearly earned its bleakness. The best short stories she tells us have a lot in common with the good joke. Each relies on economy and suggestion and I’d add timing.

Brooks tells us why she admires those she has selected. She offers advice to a new generation of writers who chose the short form: go out and live life, and if possible go someplace where “you have to think in one language and buy groceries in another.”Carry home in your soul what you learn and then write about it, Brooks advises.

Every story has earned its place in the anthology but a number of the stories especially grabbed me and won’t let go.

“Housewifely Arts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman hangs on more than any of the other nineteen. It’s a wrenching tale of a single mother reaching for atonement by seeking out the parrot that had been her dead mother’s pet so she could hear the bird mimic her mother’s voice. It’s a story that looks at the things in life that define our humanity. “What maniacs we are – sick with love, all of us.”

“A Bridge Under Water” by Tom Bissell is hilarious, erotic and ultimately sorrowful story that follows a young couple as their new marriage begins to crumble during a honeymoon tour of a Rome synagogue. Bissell throws in descriptive zingers that include people with “hydraulically sincere eyebrows” or American tourists from “one of the overfed states.”

Richard Powers’ “To the Measures Fall” examines a woman’s entire adult life and records the cultural and political events of a generation by reflecting how an obscure English novel (a fictitious book by an author who doesn’t exist) can have influence over a lifetime.

Reading the book for the first time as a student bicycling in the Cotswolds, the woman is captivated. “The thing took you underwater and held you there for the better part of thirteen hours, and two days later you’re still winded.”

Each of the twenty stories in the 2011 edition has that power to pull the reader underwater. Of the hundreds of stories Brooks read she said she was seeking out those “so taught they twang.” I don’t think there’s any question that she found them.

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