An outstanding celebration of short fiction culled from writing workshops across America.
Now in its ninth year, the series has truly found its stride with guest editor Gaitskill. Her selections orbit loosely around a theme of displacement, which gives the collection a cohesion that is often lacking in “Best Of” anthologies. In many of the stories, this theme is glaring. In “Wintering,” a Russian teenager is sent away from her beachside home to live with her grandfather in Siberia while her mother serves out a prison sentence. In “Salvation Army,” an Iranian teacher who has fled to Massachusetts with her two sons contemplates the dismal fate of her former students as she tries to raise her now American children with humility and honor. Other narrators find themselves out of place in their own homes: “Weather Enough” introduces a young man who has returned from Chicago to his small Wisconsin town after his brother’s death and understands, when he spends time with a fellow mourner, that he no longer belongs there; “Welcome Home” follows a soldier who returns to his wife in Nebraska after a tour of duty in Iraq and cannot settle into a domestic routine, shaken by the humiliation that he had never been able to fire his gun in combat. For some of the characters, the idea of home is more complicated. The narrator of “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” for example, is a young writer struggling with his material, particularly when faced with his family’s refugee history.
Gaitskill’s selections are surprisingly quiet—there are no shock-value moments, just painstakingly good prose, fine plotting and efficiently drawn characters.