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THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2009

As worthwhile as ever—any reader will discover some new favorites here.

This year’s edition of the well-known anthology engages the world.

Selections by Sebold (The Almost Moon, 2007, etc.) tend to grapple with the issues of the day, rather than concerning themselves primarily with the formalistic edicts of academic programs. “Each of these twenty stories is risky in its own way,” comments series editor Pitlor in her foreword. Many of the entries, she continues, “demonstrate the human ability to endure crises and to regenerate afterward.” Two fictions inspired by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina couldn’t be more different. “Rubiaux Rising” is the shortest piece here (eight pages) and one of the most powerful. Compressed details deliver a visceral jolt in Steve De Jarnatt’s narrative about an Iraq veteran, addicted to pain killers since he lost an arm and a leg to an IED, who has been locked in an attic by his mother to detox when Katrina (never mentioned) strikes. It’s the first story the author ever submitted for publication, one of the discoveries that makes this series so valuable. The 40-page “Hurricanes Anonymous” by Adam Johnson is the volume’s longest piece and one of its richest, detailing connections made and lost in the emotional aftermath of two Louisiana storms. “Rubiaux” did not need to be a syllable longer; “Hurricanes” could have sustained the reader’s interest for many more pages. Other tales concern war, past as well as present, and foreign affairs. Another contributor being published for the first time is Zambia-born Namwali Serpell (“Muzungu”); the usual roster of familiar names includes Jill McCorkle, Richard Powers and Annie Proulx; and the collection features multiple selections from such reliably discerning publications as the New Yorker (four) and Tin House (three).

As worthwhile as ever—any reader will discover some new favorites here.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-618-79225-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2009

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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