Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

"The Best American Short Stories 2014" by Jennifer Egan (ed) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

120 stories were selected from 208 magazines by the series editor. Egan (who'd been having short stories published for 21 years before appearing in the series) selected the final 20.

I didn't think much of Baxter's piece, or Ann Beattie's which ended "Then winter ended and spring came, and I thought, even if I don't believe there's a poem in anything anymore, maybe I'll write a story. A lot of people do that when they can't seem to figure out who or what they love. It might be an oversimplification, but they seem to write poetry when they do know". T.C.Boyle's piece wasn't a knock-out. On p.328 he writes "this is a story, like many of mine, that slams two scenarios together in order to see what the result will be". Cameron's depends on the voice - a 1st person old woman: "My sister lives in the house I grew up in, but I have nothing to do with her for reasons that don't really pertain at all to the matter at hand, which is the Djukanovics. I suppose in a way that everything is connected in some fashion, but I'd rather just leave Valerie (my sister) out of this. She'll only spoil the story, like she spoils everything. I don't know why I said that about her living in the house we grew up in, so just forget it"

I like the Craig Davidson story ("Medium Tough") about a deformed surgeon. In "The Breeze" (Joshua Ferris), overlapping spans of an evening are told in no particular order. Scenes are revisited without contradiction until (I think) the final paragraph where an alternative plot is offered. A couple are falling out. Nell Freudenberger's story features another troubled couple. "A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me" by David Gates doesn't grab me. "At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners" by Lauren Groff covers a lifetime. I preferred the second half. "The Judge’s Will" by Ruth Pawer Jhabvala is just another story. "Evie M." by O. A. Lindsey has its moments - about an ex-War veteran. "Kattekoppen" by Will Mackin is my favourite so far. Fast. "This Is Not a Love Song" (Brendan Mathews) has titles of photos or tapes as subtitles - snapshots of memories. I like it.

The author, Molly McNett, wrote that she was worried that an early draft of "La Pulchra Nota" might seem like an episode of Glee. To me, moving it to the 1300s hasn't helped much. I was gradually won over by "God" (Benjamin Nugent) - shared confidences amongst students. In "Mastiff" (Joyce Carol Oates) a couple who've recently started dating (aged 41 and 57) are cautious about disclosures. We're told "the man had felt sharply the emptiness of his existence ... The woman was also lonely and dissatisfied - but primarily with others, not with herself". Little was added to the predictable plot. "Next to Nothing" (Stephen O’Conner) concerns 2 anthropologist mothers who believe in rationality - "Are we going to die [mummy]?" "Of course we're going to die. But not in the hurricane. The hurricane is nothing. The hurricane is just a way for the television stations to expand their audiences so that they can sell advertisements for more money. It's also a way for people who have boring lives to feel that their lives are not boring". "Madam Bovary’s Greyhound" (Karen Russell) sounds as if it might be good. In "Antarctica" (Laura Van Den Berg), a man dies when an antarctica camp burns down. His sister visits. She knew his wife, who'd disappeared after visiting her kidnapper when he'd come out of prison. Lots of incident. It ends with - "I did not know if one day I would disappear and no one except a missing woman and a dead man would be able to tell the people who loved me why".

All in all not much ambition though some pleasant reads, the shorter stories often more successful than the longer ones.

Other reviews

  • Kirkus reviews (All are serviceable, none bad, but few of the stories are true tours de force, with one notable exception being Lauren Groff’s “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners”)
  • Good reads

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