Friday, August 12, 2011
Book Review: Best American Short Stories 2011
With that said, there are certainly some stories that everyone needs to read! The first being “Ceiling” (it also happens to be the first in the collection) which depicts a man who has chosen to become a member of the elite class in Lagos even though it meant giving up his true love and happiness. “A Bridge Under Water” made me smile even though it described the failings of a new marriage and the role of religion in our society and relationships. Elizabeth McCracken’s “Property” is a heartbreaking story about a man who loses his wife and relocates to Maine where he rents out a dilapidated house with a pesky landlord who isn’t quite who he thinks she is.
The two best stories are those that don’t exactly fit into a genre and might easily have been overlooked before their inclusion in this anthology. Steven Millhauser’s “Phantoms” reads a lot like a report or dissertation written about ghosts in a small town and their affect on the town’s citizens. Complete with case studies, explanations and analysis, this “story” is fantastic not only because of its narrative style but also because of the writing. Caitlin Horrocks’ “The Sleep” is by far one of the best short stories I have read in a long time. She tells of a town that is so poor it decides to hibernate during the winter. Of course this attracts a great amount of attention from outsiders and the media who admonish, and at times berate, the residents. It becomes far more than just a story about sleeping.
Clearly, there are some gems in this collection that should be savored. However, the majority of stories left a lot to be desired. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this book was the foreword by the series editor and the introduction by Brooks. Both pieces focused on the do’s and don’t’s of writing. While I think this advice may be helpful to some, I didn’t feel like this collection was the place for it. Additionally, I am always leery of authors giving out writing advice as there are many kinds of “good” writing and one shoe does not fit all. That said, while I would recommend certain stories in this collection, I would not recommend this book to others.