Monday, January 18, 2010

The Best American Short Stories (2008)

The Best American Short Stories 2008
© 2008 Salman Rushdie, editor.
358 pages

Although I've read quite a few short-story collections, most of them are by the same two familar authors -- Isaac Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut. Even when I read a collection outside of those two,  I still never wander into unfamilar territory -- I choose authors or subjects with whom I am familar.I decided to go exploring this week, though, after spotting an array of short-story collections in this series on my home library's shelves.  I have no experience with the Best of Series, so I would be sailing into the unknown.

The unknown, at least in this case, turned out to be a very interesting place. Salman Rushdie has collected a set of stories, twenty all told, that  exhibit tremendous variety.  There are stories of family, science fiction, fantasy, culture, friendship, and love in here. Most of the stories lack the conventional conflict-climax-resolution plot format,  not that this hurts them.It lends many of them a certain air of authencitiy, as if this is something that could happen in your life or mine: as the story comes to its end, the reader is left to mull over the consequences of what happened, since the narrator isn't doing it for us.  Rushdie has included no fluff: all of the stories left me pondering at their end. A few are worth mentioning here:

  • "The Year of Silence" by Keven Brockmeier is set in a city whichexperiences period outbreaks of silence that always lead to spikes in the quality of life and seeks to create a constant atmosphere of silence  -- and experiences the consequences.
  • "Man and Wife" by Katie Chase may have been the most disturbing story in the collection, as it is set in an altered United States in which arranged marriages between older men and young girls is common.
  • "The Quality of Life" by Christine Sneed explores the consequences of an inescapable affair.  
  • "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell is the story of two very old vampires who subsist on lemons from a exquisite grove in Italy and have found that being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be.
  • Thomas Wolff's "Bible" sees a woman kidnapped by a "terrorist" who turns out to be a concerned parent.
  • "Buying Lenin" by Miroslav Penkov is the story of a young Russian-American immigrant buying "Lenin's body" off of eBay to make amends with his cranky Communist grandfather. 

All told, this amounted to an interesting collection. I'll probably be reading from the Best Of series more as the year develops.

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