Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Meta-Anthology 2017

As I have explained in previous years, I make no pretense to this representing the best short stories of this year. First of all, because they are not of this year, having all first appeared in 2016. But also, since I could not possibly keep up with all short fiction publications of interest, I have culled them from four key anthologies, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American series, in its Short Story, Mystery Story, and Science Fiction and Fantasy instances, and the Pushcart Prize. Despite the names of those anthologies, it represents not the best of the best, but a selection of what was deemed "best" by others that I found nonetheless to be worth reading. All together, here are nineteen stories, any one of which should have gone viral. Can we hope perhaps that it is never too late?

Chad B. Anderson, "Maidencane," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in Nimrod.

This was a risky story, containing practically everything novice writers are told not to do by well-meaning, aesthetically conservative elders--second person, unreliable narrator, frank depictions of bisexuality. It angers me, in a way that is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the short fiction ecosystem at the moment, that it first appeared in a journal that "pays" with contributor's copies.

Dale Bailey, "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Nightmare Magazine, December 2016.

Self-consciously referential, but nonetheless manages to elevate itself above its concept with more than a few insightful passages.

Dan Bevacqua, "The Human Variable," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First published in The Literary Review.

The two New Englands meet somewhere in California; climate change impacts and pot cultivation. Several of my favorite things find their way into a single story, and it works.

Tom Bissell, "Creative Types," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in The Paris Review.

Two clich├ęs--the underachieving, barely accomplished, man-child writer, and the married couple "looking to spice things up" in the bedroom--get combined in some unexpectedly charming and--dare I say?--even sweet ways.

Lydia Conklin, "Counselor of My Heart," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First published in The Southern Review.

I am a sucker for anything that gets digs in against Harvard. Because let's face it, lesbian slacker only realizes she loves her uptight girlfriend after killing the girlfriend's dog is a paint-by-numbers epiphany story. Acute socio-psychological observations--especially against Harvard kids--are needed to lend the composition some flecks of impressionist color.

Brendan DuBois, "The Man from Away," from The Best American Mystery Stories. First appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Up in the north woods portions of New England--Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont--there's a genre of joke that boils down to, underestimated backwoodsman outsmarts the supposedly clever fellas from away. This is a slightly darker than usual telling of that joke, in which a Masshole gets what's coming to him. Still worth a laugh.

Brian Evenson, "Smear," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Conjunctions.

There is more metaphysical terror in seven pages of Evenson's fiction than in a 700 page volume of existential phenomenology.

Lauren Groff, "The Midnight Zone," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in The New Yorker, May 23, 2016.

Is there a greater fear for a parent than having something bad happen to a child? It could be, being rendered helpless in the presence of one's children.

N. K. Jemisin, "The City Born Great," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared on Tor.com, September 28, 2016.

"We got this. Don't sleep on the city that never sleeps, son, and don't fucking bring your squamous eldritch bullshit here." Even if I can't assent to the implicit optimism of the narrator and the narrative--when it comes to New York City, I suspect the Enemy is long since past the gate, its tentacles in every Starbucks-Pinkberry-AppleStore-CondoRehab--I gloried in the rebellious b-boy survivor tenor of its wordplay.

Kyle McCarthy, "Ancient Rome," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in American Short Fiction.

As someone who serves indirectly as a servant to the ultra-rich, it is interesting, and uncannily recognizable, to read a story told by a more direct sort of servant. Also interesting, and uncannily recognizable, to read a story written in the voice of a female narrator who displays a kind of intellectual arrogance that, in earlier generations, was usually coded as male.

Marc Jude Poirier, "Mentor," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Crazyhorse.

My stomach turned in recognition. Too many of us have stories like these; mine involves crabs.

Steven Popkes, "The Sweet Warm Earth," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Somehow, even though I subscribe to F&SF, this story made no impression upon me when it first appeared, to the extent that I do not even recall having read it. Perhaps I had been rendered cranky and impatient by whatever pieces it shared its issue with. A key conceit of the story can be interpreted with either a fantastic or a naturalistic spin, which accounts I suppose for the peculiar combination of the journal of its first appearance and the anthology in which it was included. Yet more important to how this story works as a story is a distinctive narratorial voice and good characterization.

Eric Puchner, "Last Day on Earth," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in Granta.

Contra Tolstoy, all happy families are peculiar, but each unhappy family has some grim similarity to the others. This story is an example of the latter; telling a story about the former would be more adventurous, but risks degeneration into schmaltz.

Sujata Shekar, "The Dreams of Kings," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Epoch.

An appropriately grotesque story of violence and commuting.

Jim Shepard, "Telemachus," from The Best American Short Stories 2017 and The Pushcart Prize XLII. First published in Zoetrope.

Jim Shepard's geeky obsessions do not overlap at all with mine, which makes the fact that he managed to squeeze some great sentences and brilliant paragraphs out of them all the more notable to me.

William Soldan, "All Things Come Around," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Thuglit.

I drive my three-year-old to and from his daycare nearly every day, and even though on most parts of most of our drives the greatest hazard would be a wayward deer, still my heart feels like it takes a few steps up in my chest from its customary position to ride just below my throat. This story gave me the heart-directly-in-throat sensation of a child in danger and kept it there nearly from start to finish.

Peter Straub, "The Process Is a Process All Its Own," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Conjunctions.

If words like "happiness," "fulfillment," or "satisfaction" smell to you like the emissions of someone with a corpse in their mouth, then you may have more in common with a serial killer than you would like to believe.

Catherynne Valente, "The Future Is Blue," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Drowned Worlds.

Bless Valente for having the chutzpah to call her readers Fuckwits. All available evidence suggests that we deserve it. (Bonus points for working in a shout-out to Becky's Diner.)

Keith Woodruff, "Elegy," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Wigleaf.

Flash fiction tied together by its dedication.

No comments:

Post a Comment