A rich and complex vision of the American South emerges from the series’ 22nd edition.
There’s room here for traditional southern tales—those that “entertain on the way to their point,” in Jones’s words. The best include Tim Gautreaux’s “The Safe,” about a junkman whose life is changed when he opens a long-abandoned safe; Allan Gurganus’s “Fourteen Feet of Water in My House,” about a man who motorboats above his flooded neighborhood rescuing friends, strangers and pets after Hurricane Floyd; and R.T. Smith’s “Story,” in which a burglary rekindles a man’s passion for his wife. Other stories extend the boundaries of what is considered “the South.” Rick Bass’s powerful coming-of-age story, “Goats,” about two high-school boys who dream of starting a cattle ranch—in one scene they try to bring a calf home in a family station wagon—takes place outside Houston, Texas. In newcomer-to-watch Toni Jensen’s story, “At the Powwow Hotel,” a Native-American widower and his son spend two days in a cornfield that inexplicably appears next to their West Texas home. Another up-and-coming writer, Stephanie Powell Watts, writes about two Jehovah’s Witnesses who travel dirt roads in North Carolina looking for converts among the poor, white and wary (“Unassigned Territory”). Violence is decidedly part of the South envisioned here. In Agustín Maes’s chilling “Beauty and Virtue,” a serial killer drops in on his brother’s family; in Philipp Meyer’s “One Day This Will All Be Yours,” a son tries to prevent his father’s suicide while impassive neighbors look on. Angela Threatt’s teenage narrator in “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” faces all manner of urban threat when she and her mother move from the country to the projects in Richmond. Dogs roam throughout most of the stories, most memorably in Stephen Marion’s “Dogs with Human Faces,” about a resurrection of sorts.
A stellar collection.