Sunday Salon: Cheating

sunsalon1Lately my main squeeze is Gone with the Wind, but I admit it: I’ve been stepping out with Best American Short Stories 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. In a sense I can’t really consider it cheating; after all, I’ve been with this collection at least once every year since 1992. Usually I buy it in January and read it straight through from cover to cover. This year has been unusual in many ways, one of which was my not getting around to cracking the spine on this collection until this month. I’m about halfway through and I must say, I am underwhelmed for the first time in many years. I’m not sure if Mr. Rushdie and I simply have different taste, or if perhaps it’s just my mood. Most of the stories are fine–but then, that’s the problem. They’re just fine. And they’re supposed to be the best.

Out of the eight stories I’ve read (there are twenty in the collection, and one of the remaining stories is an Alice Munro story, which I’m almost guaranteed to like, and also one Tobias Wolff story that makes me hopeful), only one has really stood out as excellent (“The Year of Silence,” by Kevin Brockmeyer) and one was solidly good (“From The Desk of Daniel Varsky,” by Nicole Krauss), and the rest have been sort of meh. Disappointing. For instance, I love T.C. Boyle’s stories, as a rule, but the opening story of this collection, “Admiral”–well, it feels like he’s phoning it in, as they say. Same with A.M. Homes and Allegra Goodman. 

I cannot remember the last year I didn’t plow through this collection, finishing it in a day or two. But I’m finding that when I get to the end of each story, I’m more than ready to set the book down. Perhaps it will improve as I go on, or upon a second read. Maybe after last year’s really stand out collection–with guest editor Stephen King, no less; you could have knocked me over with a feather–this one just seems sort of (yawn) typical. Last year, after all, had Lauren Groff’s wonderful “L. DeBard and Aliette,” Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” and Jim Shepard’s amazing “Sans Farine,” a story told from the point of view of the man who operates the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Or maybe these modern stories aren’t gripping me because I’m so wrapped up in the Confederate South, so much so that when I’m not reading I’m yammering on and on about the story to my husband. In fact, I can hear Scarlett stamping her feet and demanding my attention even as I write this, and I think Rhett’s going to show up again soon, and I definitely don’t want to miss him. Happy Sunday to everyone!

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11 comments

  1. I’ve never tried the short story collection. I almost always buy the best poetry of the year. I haven’t gotten that one yet this year….Thanks for the reminder.

  2. It’s too bad the anthology has been disappointing so far 😦 I like a lot of the authors you mentioned. Ah well…hopefully next year’s will be better!

  3. Priscilla, it really does seem like you should be in for so many treats with this collection, so it’s too bad that it hasn’t been blowing you away so far. Like Clair, I would love to read more by Nicole Krauss; I also would love to read the Allegra Goodman, as she’s an author I tend to enjoy as well (I really enjoyed her latest book, “Intuition”).

    I’ve been hearing lots of great things about Lauren Groff’s short story prowess – I wonder if her writing lends itself better to the short story genre. I recently read and reviewed Monsters of Templeton on my site and was less than impressed with it…

  4. Debbie, I never buy the poetry or essay collections, but I’ve thought of branching out into those. Maybe next year!

    Claire, it’s a pretty good story! I can’t remember if I’ve read any of her SS before, but I did love her novel.

    Nymeth, I too tend to enjoy all the writers I mentioned, which is why I am sort of…surprised at how these stories are. In no way are they bad, but I love to get the feeling when I’m reading this collection that it’s the best of the best.

    Steph–in for treats! Yes, that’s a great way to put it. I am only eight stories in, so perhaps the next twelve will knock my socks off. I’ll probably do a full review when I finish.

  5. Hey Prissy,

    Haven’t even attempted it, sad to say. Maybe SR’s picks aren’t so hot because he’s smarting over his divorce from Padma. I’m going to go and eat some tots and have a day. Or at least an evening.

  6. Sometimes I think the “best of” collections rely too much on the “it” writers of the literary world rather than really being best of the year collections, not that the authors’ reputations aren’t deserved, just that the reputation lends a weight to the story that is a tad undeserved. Sort of sounds like that may be what’s going on here. Or it could have been a weak year for stories. 😉

  7. Kristen, I think there’s definitely some validity to what you say, particularly for this collection. The Pushcart and O. Henry anthologies tend to publish less well-known writers with terrific talent.

  8. I think this year is actually the first time I’ve tried this collection! Anyway, I only got to read a few before I had to turn the book back to the library but have you read Man and Wife yet? I thought that one was really good.

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