THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2011 edited by Geraldine Brooks

Book Quote:

“Daddy hadn’t meant to hurt her, she knew. Even Momma believed this, which was why she hadn’t called 911. And when the doctor at the ER had asked Lisette how her face had got so bruised, her nose and eye socket broken, she’d said that it was an accident on the stairs – she’ been running and she’d fallen.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (OCT 5, 2011)

This year’s editor of The Best American Short Stories 2011 is Geraldine Brooks, an accomplished journalist and fiction writer. She says of her selections “that the easiest and the first choices were the stories to which I had a physical response.” I would agree that the best stories in this collection are those that are most visceral and physical in nature. Ms. Brooks also states that “In the end, the stories I fell upon with perhaps the greatest delight were the outliers, the handful or so that defied the overwhelming gravitational pull toward small-canvas contemporary realism.”

There are twenty stories in this alphabetically arranged collection. About half of them swept me away and the other half didn’t move me as much as I’d hoped they would. Each year, I look forward to this collection with much anticipation and excitement. This year’s collection felt a bit below par in consistency and quality.

I agree with Ms. Brooks that the best stories in this collection are those to which I had a physical response. They tended towards themes of violence and/or grief. One such story is by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In “Ceiling,” she writes about a man who realizes he is in the wrong life. He feels lassitude in his marriage which is superficial and without depth. He yearns for his college sweetheart who he’s built up in his mind as perfect. As Ms. Brooks states, this story “perfectly captures the yearning spirit of a man who has settled for the wrong wife, the wrong life, in the stultifying salons of Lagos’s corrupt upper class.”

In “Housewifely Arts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman, a single mother drives nine hours to visit her dead mother’s parrot because the parrot is so perfectly able to mimic her mother’s voice. The parrot has more of her mother inside her than the daughter does.

Nathan Englander’s story, “Free Fruit for Young Widows,” opens with a violent act and continues with acts of violence. The story examines the roots of violence as it explores the possibilities and rationales that make violence an appropriate act. Part tale of vengeance and part philosophy, the reader puzzles the situations as does the young son whose father is telling him the story.

Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova” is a haunting story of grief. A woman who is a children’s art teacher is left by her fiancé. She brings her wedding dress to school and lets her students paint all over it. The story is about the depths of grief and loss.

“Soldier of Fortune” by Bret Anthony Johnston tells about Josh, a high school freshman who is in love with his neighbor Holly, a senior. When Holly’s three year-old brother accidentally gets severely scalded by boiling water and the family has to spend weeks at the hospital, Josh takes care of their home and dog. He grows up during this pivotal time.

In “Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart,” by Rebecca Makai, a man and his friend, Peter, have known each other since high school. Both are gay and they initially bonded over that commonality. Peter was beautiful and charismatic and went on to become an actor. At one of his performances he has a meltdown and can’t work again. His friend gives his all to Peter getting nothing in return. The reader wonders why his friend would risk so much for Peter.

Joyce Carol Oates, in “ID,” tells about Lisette, an eighth-grader who is recovering from a shattered eye socket and broken nose incurred by a beating from her estranged father. Lisette lives with her mother, a black jack dealer in Atlantic City. Lisette’s mother has been gone for several days, leaving Lisette alone with no idea of when she’ll be back or where she went. The police appear at her school and ask her to ID a corpse that they think might be her mother.

George Saunders writes about prisoners who are used in an experiment where they are given psychoactive drugs that take them to the deepest recesses of their souls. “Escape from Spiderland” is about these prisoners, the experiment, and the feelings of ultimate love, eloquence and sexuality that these drugs render. The prisoners can be brought to the depths of despair and the height of exaltation and then returned to their baselines in a few seconds.

Overall, there are some very good stories in this collection and some that are just mediocre. The ones that stand out are definitely the ones that feel like a visceral gut punch and that pound on the reader’s psyche. Ms. Brooks did not want “small-canvas contemporary realism” but sometimes it is the small canvas that shows the most detail and beauty. One just needs to look at it from the right angle.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 18 readers
PUBLISHER: Mariner Books (October 4, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Best American Short Stories
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Our reviews of some of Geraldine Brooks’ novels:

Partial Bibliography:

October 5, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Short Stories

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