Best American Short Stories 2013
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
The Best American Short Stories 2013, edited by Elizabeth Strout and Heidi Pitlor, rocks.
Sorry–I was trying to make more time to read short stories. I do not know if it is an age factor or not, but in my dotage I find myself attracted to the short form as the long form seems to be taking longer to finish that it did when I was a pup.
But collections are always problematic. Maintaining interest for one reader over a collection of twenty stories is probably not even the goal of the editors. For me, this collection worked from the first story to the last.
One of the reasons why, I think, is that the stories are told in a straight ahead fashion with little experimentation with form. While I enjoy an avantegarde surrealistic painting on occasion, sometimes it is enough to just get the aesthetics of a painting from the straight forward presentation of realism. I am convinced this collection would work for a cross section of readers in a book discussion group.
That is why I think a book discussion group could read this title and find plenty to discuss. Whether everyone reads the same story or stories are selected individually for discussion, there is a lot to talk about in this collection.
My favorite story of all was The Wilderness by Elizabeth Tallent. In this story we hear the confession of a professor who appears to be one thing publically and is a whole different thing internally. This story, in a very quiet fashion, projects a lot of emotion that touched me.
Here is how the professor views her English students: “Literature looked back at her from their eyes and told her certain things she was sure they ought not to have understood at their age. They had gotten it from books–books with their intricacies and the things they wanted you to know about love and death that you could have gone a long time not knowing if you had not been a reader, and which, even when you were a reader, you saw as universal truths that did not apply to you.”
To her regret, this professor was asked a question once and now wants the opportunity to answer. “…so they parted and not long after that lost touch and she was left answering him in her mind, saying yes, there was something she’d like, just one word, on her gravestone.
I can live with that.