10 May 2010

The Best American Short Stories 2009

This was my last "Best American" 2009 book yet to read and I'm glad I saved it for the end.  Each of the stories in this volume are wonderful selections, very wide ranging, and occasionally gut-wrenching.  Brava to Alice Sebold for her selections (in her introduction she notes that out of the 200 hundred stories she read in consideration for this volume, eleven were immediately "in" - I wonder which ones).

The story from this volume that most haunts me is "Modulation" by Richard Powers - a story about a rogue music "virus" and its easy spread and effect on listeners.  What affected me so deeply was the ability for something like this, and even more sinister, to spread in the exact way that Powers proposes in the story.  File sharing.  Powers also gives his characters, however briefly we meet them, a deep love of music in all its forms and that appeals to me as well.

Alex Rose's "Ostracon" is heartbreaking in the depiction of an elderly woman who doesn't realise the depths of her dementia - her husband, however, dreads what the loss of Katya's memory portends.  "The Briefcase" by Rebecca Makkai is heartbreaking, too, chronicling a man's brief escape from his life political imprisonment by usurping the life of the man, a professor, picked to replace him in the body count; the briefcase of the story is the key to the unnamed man's salvation and downfall.

One story, however, seems altogether too real to be fiction.  "Beyond the Pale" by Joseph Epstein is narrated by Arnold Berman who tells the story of his love for Yiddish and how that love led him to translate the work of Yiddish-language writer Zalman Belzner.  The story is matter-of-fact, chronicling the life of an ordinary man and father who crosses paths with a piece of history.  The little details Epstein includes - the suits worn by a beloved grandfather, Gerda Belzner's idiosyncrasies, the arrival of children - make the piece seem like a mini-biography, less like a story, and it is all the more enjoyable for that reason.

All the stories in this volume are a delight to read, even the stranger ones like "The Peripatetic Coffin" and "Hurricanes Anonymous" which seems to have neither beginning nor end.  Never having read any earlier short stories volumes from the Best American series, are they all like that?  I guess I'll have to wait and see!


  1. Anonymous4:24 PM

    I've always been a bit iffy about the "Best American" series for some reason. But after reading your posts, I think I'm going to give 2009 Short Stories, Nonrequired Reading, and Essays a go.

  2. Juanita, definitely give at least the essays and short stories a shot. The nice thing about these is you can read a great story in 5-10 minutes without having to find a "stopping point" like you would a good novel.