Lately 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!