Monday, January 19, 2009
The Best American Short Stories 2008
Series Editor..Heidi Pitlor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Meh.Disappointing.And then some.I struggled to finish all the stories in this volume selected by guest editor Salman Rushdie.
Nothing stood out.One story bore me.Steven Millhauser's 29 page diary like marathon failed to capture my interest.In the contributors notes at the back he writes of the origin.."an idle thought,of no particular interest in itself".Unfortunately the same could be said of this piece.
Rushdie notes in his introduction that many short stories today have "that flat polished sameness of tone".Unhappily there are many examples of this within this tome.What Rushdie says he "expected and perhaps feared:a widespread humorless bloodless competence" pervades these pages.
None are to my mind particularly strong or original.Kate Chases effort reminds me of Margaret Atwoods HandMaid's Tale while the characters in Allegra Goodman's "Closely Held" wouldnt seem out of place in a Douglas Coupland novel.Minus the humor and insight.
This sense of weary deja vu is further exacerbated with the inclusion of a Karen Russell story for the second year running.Quite apart from the fact there must surely be other noteworthy writers deserving of their first appearance it is another vampire story.Fangs but no thanks.Im so over vampires.Vampire overkill.Bloodless competence indeed.
Rushdie also includes contributions by a former guest editor Tobias Wolff and another by Alice Munro who also featured in last years volume.I have no objection to their being here on the basis they are well known writers.I do wonder if there were commercial considerations involved as their actual offerings seem very pedestrian and merely workperson like.
Other reviews Ive read have noted that Rushdie isnt an American,while others suggest stories about Pakistani electricians have no place in an American anthology.Both these matters are addressed adequately by Rushdie in his introduction as though he foresaw these objections.
Rushdie lists six authors(whose work didnt make the final cut)in his introduction who should feel "aggrieved".Its a pity he didnt extend his apology to this reader.
However he shouldnt have to shoulder all the blame for this lack lustre collection.Some fault must fall at the feet of the series editor Heidi Pitlor in her second year on the job.Strike two as far as Im concerned.
On an unrelated point,not only is the quality of writing dropping to my mind but so is the actual physical construction of the book.The covers are of a thinner card than last years edition.Bending and distorting easily.The pages paper quality also seems inferior and coarser.More susceptible to marks,dust and grubby fingerprints.
Definitely not a keeper.