Vanessa's Reviews > American Short Story Masterpieces: A Rich Selection of Recent Fiction from America's Best Modern Writers

American Short Story Masterpieces by Raymond Carver
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With 500+ pages and 36 stories, you'll get your money's worth (and then some since this is a mass market paperback), but your "masterpiece" mileage may vary. Some of the stories I'd wager were only included because they tinkered with the short story format, but that kind of tinkering is old hat now so the masterpiece mantle doesn't fit very well anymore-see "The Amish Farmer" by Vance Bourjaily.

None of the reviewers can agree on what the best or worst stories were, so here are my random thoughts because random is what I do best.

• Favorite: “Walking Out” by David Quammen. I would never, NEVER have predicted a story by a writer I’d never heard of about hunting of all things would be my favorite, but this story is just about perfect: evocative, absorbing, haunting ending. It was also just turned into a movie of the same name.

• Other top tier stories: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, “Fever” by Raymond Carver, “The Lover of Horses” by Tess Gallagher, and “Akhnilo” by James Salter.

• Other stories I liked: “Talk of Heroes” by Carol Bly, "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason, “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud, “Verona: A Young Woman Speaks” by Harold Brodkey, “Weekend” by Ann Beattie, “Rock Springs” by Richard Ford, “Water Liars” by Barry Hannah, “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (adapted into the movie Smooth Talk), “The Heavenly Animal” by Jayne Anne Phillips, “The Wedding” by Joy Williams, “Redemption” by John Gardner, “Dream Children” by Gail Godwin, and “The Liar” by Tobias Wolff.

• Story I begrudgingly liked: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Maybe she was a lovely woman, but I can’t shake the feeling that O’Connor was a sanctimonious asshole. All of her stories are about people with moral failings who end up getting maimed or killed in some spectacular fashion, their comeuppance often highly disproportionate to their misdeeds. The schadenfreude is not cute. Having said all that, this is probably one of her best.

• Stories I didn’t like: “A Poetics for Bullies” by Stanley Elkin, “Letters from the Samantha” by Mark Helprin, and “The Misfits” by Arthur Miller.

• “You could have picked any story by {writer} and THIS is the one you picked?” stories: The Ursula K. Le Guin (“Ile Forest”) and John Updike (“The Christian Roommates”) were both just fair. If you were going to go with ONE Le Guin story, I cannot imagine why you’d chose anything other than “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

This collection was edited by Carver and Tom Jenks. It’s maybe a bit unusual that a writer would select a story by himself and his girlfriend/later wife (Tess Gallagher) in an anthology they were editing, but Carver and Gallagher also had two of the best stories in the bunch. Jenks explains in the preface that they excluded writers who were included in the Short Story Masterpieces anthology, which somewhat explains the gaping abyss left by not including John Cheever.

(And, how is there no Truman Capote?)

The fact that there is almost no agreement on what stories were good or bad would make this great classroom discussion material, although some of the stories are too explicit to ever fly at the high school level.
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2017 – Started Reading
November 1, 2017 – Shelved
December 5, 2017 – Finished Reading

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