Another stellar selection from an anthology that has sustained high standards for 35 years.
Every year’s annual edition reflects the state of the genre as seen from the eyes of its guest editor. As this year’s editor, Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing, 2011, etc.) brings an outsider’s perspective to the American short story, one not beholden to creative writing workshops and MFA programs. Born and raised in Australia, she’s a journalist who became an acclaimed novelist and who doesn’t write stories. But she read a whole lot of them last year, using the criterion that “a great piece of writing is the one you feel on your skin. It has to do something: Make the heart beat harder or the hairs stand up. Provoke laughter or tears.” She plainly responds to strong narrative voices, characters and momentum, preferring plots to postmodern literary parlor tricks (though inclusions from Steven Millhauser, Sam Lipsyte and a wonderful multiple-choice story by Richard Powers suggest that she is no kneejerk traditionalist). This anthology is lighter on discovery than some years, with more than a third of the 20 stories first published in the New Yorker (and another actually an excerpt from Jennifer Egan’s prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad novel), but the inclusion of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Housewifely Arts” whets the appetite for her debut story collection next spring. And Tom Bissell’s explanation of how “A Bridge Under Water,” about a honeymoon in Rome that shows a marriage already in peril, was rejected 15 times before the publication that resulted in this year’s anthologizing should provide hope to persevering writers everywhere. Many of these stories offer rite-of-passage (or at least coming-of-age) discoveries, as the reader recognizes implications that a youthful protagonist has yet to glean. Compounding the narrative intrigue is Ricardo Nuila’s “Dog Bites,” with a narrator subjected to multiple diagnoses (including Asperger’s) by his doctor father, challenging the reader to determine whether the perspective of the son or the father is more significantly skewed.
Each one of these stories could establish itself as some reader’s favorite.