4 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful
Michael R. reviewed The Best American Short Stories 2000 on
Features stories by Geoffrey Becker, Amy Bloom, Michael Byers, Ron Carlson, Raymond Carver, Kiana Davenport, Junot Diaz, Nathan Englander, Percival Everett, Tim Gautreaux, Allan Gurganus, Aleksandar Hemon, Kathleen Hill, Ha Jin, Marilyn Krysl, Jhumpa Lahiri, Walter Mosley, ZZ Packer, Edith Pearlman, Annie Proulx, and Frances Sherwood.
Of course it's difficult to assign a rating to an anthology. Since it is impossible to rate the individual stories, I must assign stars to the collected ensemble. E. L. Doctorow, guest editor for the year 2000, seems to prefer long, involved family sagas that would lend themselves (I think) better to novels than to short stories, even after he goes on in his introduction about how different short stories and novels are.
The most grating of these stories was "Bones of the Inner Ear," by Kiana Davenport. In novel form, I might have had time to grow sympathetic to the various abused and abusive figures in this story about growing up poor in Hawai'i, but as it was, I felt I had barely met the character who emerges from the dung heap as the hero in the end.
The best of these mini-novels is Annie Proulx's "People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water," which you can find in the excellent collection Close Range. We need the story of how these two families came to ranch country generations before in order to understand their conflict. It's long, but climbs tenaciously to its inevitable end, with the startling originality that I love in Proulx's work.
Other stories were more satisfying to me because they balanced background with action: Allan Gurganus's "He's at the Office," a take on Death of a Salesman; Tim Gautreaux's "Good for the Soul"; and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Third and Final Continent." Though these three stories were on the long side as well, they circled back to create satisfying resolutions. This collection helped me discover that I like a story that is able to stand alone. These three are true, contained "stories" that you could re-tell boiled down to anecdote form. They have a plot skeleton, unlike "Bones" (irony unintended, but now that I see it, I'm keeping it).
One puzzler here is a Raymond Carver story, "Call if You Need Me." Since the author died in 1988, I suppose this must have been published posthumously to merit inclusion in this 2000 collection. It's not Carver's best. My favorite Carver stories are tight, short, almost airless, communicating their characters' meager choices in the very sparseness of the telling. This story is about a dissolving couple well-off enough to rent a house for the summer to work out their troubles. They fail to make a compelling case, to each other or the reader, and drift away like the horses they see in the night -- a moment that is supposed to represent some sort of epiphany, but seems gimmicky instead.
Another story that bucks the mold is ZZ Packer's "Brownies," which takes place over a four-day Brownie camping trip, with only a whiff of generational drama in the background. The writing here sizzles like Packer's initials, helping us to see past color to individuals. I'll be looking for more from her.
Finally, you'll have to tell me what "Pet Fly," by Walter Mosley is about, because I'm still not sure: it has something to do with color and corporations, and loneliness.
At any rate, Doctorow has gathered a diverse bunch of writers whose stories tend to meandering length. If you like your short stories with the emphasis on the short, try another year in this collection.