The Best American Short Stories 2012 Hardcover – Oct 2 2012
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About the Author
TOM PERROTTA is the author of six works of fiction, most recently The Leftovers , published to wide acclaim in September 2011. His novels Election and Little Children were made into award-winning movies. HEIDI PITLOR is a former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and has been the series editor for The Best American Short Stories since 2007. She is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This year's compilation has some wonderful stories and some weaker ones. It's what I'd expect when someone goes through hundreds of stories and makes their personal picks. No one has the same taste as I do, nor would I expect them to.
Alphabetically, the stronger stories in the collection are The Last Speaker of the Language by Carol Anshaw. It is about a single mother raising a ten year-old parental child nearly perfect in her rare maturity. Mom has an alcohol problem and is out of work.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, comes from his collection of the same title. Two Jewish couples who have not seen each other in many years get together. One of the couples has become Hasids and the other couple are secular Jews. Like many Jews, they end up playing a game (which is not really a game) of who would you trust to hide and protect you and your family if there was another holocaust.
North Country by Roxanne Gay is a beautiful ode to love and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was so powerful that it brought goose bumps to my arms.
In Miracle Polish by Steven Millhauser, a man buys a bottle of mirror polish from a door-to-door salesman. The polish has potent, yet eerie powers. While it gives him hope and feelings of renewal, it pushes his girlfriend away. She wants to be seen for who she is and not the upscale version of herself that appears in the polished mirrors.
A story by Alice Munro is always a gift. Axis is a story that spans 50 years of four college students and their lives. There's a tinge of regret and sadness about it. A lot is left out and we're led to believe that much it might not have been important.
In Volcano, a 46 year-old bitter divorcee goes to Hilo, Hawaii to participate in a New Age dream workshop. There are times when she's not sure she's awake or dreaming and her life is caught somewhere in between.
Diem Perdidi (Lost Day) by Julie Otsuka is my favorite story in the collection. It is an extraordinarily profound and beautiful homage to her mother who is slowly losing herself to dementia.
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman is a real winner. It is filled with fascinating metaphors. Its focus is on an anorexic teen-ager who obsesses over insects, her headmaster and family. The girl gets high on moth particulae.
Overall, I'd say that I liked this collection but did not love it. There were at least two science fiction/fantasy stories which are not my cuppa. Additionally, there were several stories that I just could not get into.
As he explains in his introduction, he attended graduate school in the 1980s, when Marxist criticism and post-structuralist literary theory were very much in vogue. That's when I attended grad school, too, though not at Syracuse with Perrotta. It's hard to believe it now, but no one could read anything at all without subjecting it to intense political analysis and seeing it through the filter of identity politics. It was at the same time heady and ridiculous. Heady because it seemed that we were the select few who had been given secret decoder rings that allowed us to discern what literature was REALLY about. Ridiculous because the obvious idea that stories should be about people living their lives very nearly vanished in the haze of lit-crit jargon.
Perrotta was saved. Today, as he says, "I like stories written in plain, artful language about ordinary people. I'm wary of narrative experiments and excessive stylistic virtuosity, suspicious of writing that feels exclusive or elitist, targeted to readers with graduate degrees rather than the general public, whatever that means."
And that's the filter he applied as he selected the stories in this anthology. As he admits, it came down to his opinions. He's right about that, but I think his opinions are, as he says, democratic. The discussions that characterized the boom in post-structuralist criticism in graduate schools are now twenty-five years in the past. In the end, they had almost no impact on what people like to read.
Most people really do like stories about more or less ordinary people, dealing with the victories and defeats that life offers as well as they can. That's what this collection is. I recommend it very highly.
In contrast, the contemporary short story is more of a "slice of life." You might say that not much happens. It's more fragmentary, a character sketch, and shows possibilities but often has no clear resolution. This type of story leaves more room for the reader to insert his own conjectures and reactions. You can judge its effectiveness on whether the story evokes such responses. Does it involve the reader? Does it open your eyes to the circumstances of another time, place and person? Does it make you care about the characters and their lives?
If you don't expect the classic narrative structure, like Jack London's "Love of Life," "Best American Short Stories 2012" offers an outstanding collection of contemporary short stories. These twenty stories are a multifaceted array of characters and settings. Julie Otsuka in "Diem Perdidi" lets you share the life of an aging Japanese-American internment camp survivor. Miracle Polish" by Steven Millhauser deviates from the "contemporary" genre setting out more of an actual plot, albeit fanciful. Nathan Englander in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank," opens our minds to religious choices and courage. Eric Puchner's "Beautiful Monsters" is a standout. It removes us from the mundane by switching perspectives on Life. "Beautiful Monsters" merits many adjectives, among them: astonishing, appalling, moving, compelling, tragic.
"Best American Short Stories" is a variety pack of quality fiction. You may not like each of the twenty short stories in this collection, but you will likely find at least one yummy choice in this assortment.
I can't stand reading stories about white, upper-class, educated authors or entitled elitists. Please, no more. And enough of the "What We Talk About When We Talk About..." So overdone.
Carol Anshaw, "The Last Speaker of the Language" was dark, funny and overall, a story that stays with you.
Mary Gaitskill, "The Other Place" is just an amazing story about the darkness that lurks in us all. Loved it, I was not disappointed.
Roxane Gay, "North Country" is possibly my favorite story in here. I first read this story in Hobart, and I'm a big fan of her work, but re-reading it here I was just floored by the raw emotion and honesty.
Mike Meginnins, "Navigators," from the same issue of Hobart, really surprised me, wow. The gaming storyline was fascinating, but what really broke through was the father/son relationship. So good.
Steven Millhauser, "Magic Polish" is a great bit of literary sf/fantasy, contemporary Bradbury, sweet, and sad. Surprising.
Eric Puchner, "Beautiful Monsters" is such a touching bit of near future fable and myth, loved, again, caught me off-guard. Touching.
Of course in a buffet like this book there are going to be some stories I like and others I don't. I finished all but one of the stories. The best ones to me was a little sci fi "Beautiful Monsters" by Eric Puchner about genetically raised children who never grow up who encounter a full grown man for the first time (they smell awful!) and "What is Important is Feeling" by Adam Wilson about an almost famous Indie Film hanger on and his frustrated career.
Anyway if you like short stories check this out.
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