In its 12th year of annual publication, this collection of 19 stories, selected by editor Ravenel is, in more than one...

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"NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: The Year's Best, 1998"

In its 12th year of annual publication, this collection of 19 stories, selected by editor Ravenel is, in more than one sense, ""hot."" The steamy weather of the South dampens hundreds of these pages (making the snowstorm in Stephen Dixon's delightful ""The Poet"" a refreshing departure), yet the sun doesn't brighten many of the lives told in the generally fine prose gathered here. Like an intersting tour, however, there are a few local curiosities. In his preface, contributor Padgett Powell suggests why: ""The literature of the South is full of people . . . [who] have been whipped, and whipped good."" It's hard to take loss straight-on, which is perhaps why many of these stories have an oblique feel, a sidelong nestling up to their dispossessions and losses. Mark Richard--who never seems to write a poor line--makes a welcome return, after three earlier appearances, with ""Memorial Day,"" which opens with a thrilling first line: ""The boy mistook death for one of the landlady sons come to collect the rent."" Also notable is Frederick Barthelme's ""The Lesson,"" a distinctly contemporary and, as he describes it, ""nasty and brutish and grotesque and smelly"" response to Updike's popular ""A & P."" Ravenel again selected a number of lesser-known writers for their first appearance in the anthology. Particularly notable: Tim Gautreaux's ""Sorry Blood,"" a touching meditation on memory and selfhood, in which a disoriented elderly man is abducted and fooled cruelly into a brief new life; and Jennifer Moses' vivid ""Girls Like You,"" a young African-American gift's narration of her unchosen early pregnancies, that nicely renders the easy lilt and barbed curve in the slang of the young, urban poor. Powell's ""Aliens of Affection,"" however, which is about just that, drowns its mythic improbablilities long after their welcome has expired. And Michael Gill's ""Where Words Go,"" a sort of prison dialogue, borders outside but does not quite enter the realm of coherence. Each of the stories here takes place somewhere in the South, which opens the proceedings unexpectedly to a writer such as Stephen Dixon. The anthology, therefore, is most effective as a showcase of good American writing than as a demonstration of characteristically southern prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 1998

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998