The always-excellent Houghton Mifflin “Best,” with an entertaining twist.
Chabon offers a refreshing defense of “entertainment” in the introduction, arguing that determining the “best” stories is impossible. He instead presents those that simply pleased him most. The collection draws heavily from the requisite publications (the New Yorker, etc.) and the MFA feedline. Up-and-comers are rare. Working through the plentiful fractured-middle-class-family tales, we meet creepy animals (Kelly Link’s lovely, haunted “Stone Animals” and David Mean’s philosophy-infused “Secret Goldfish”) and even creepier people (Joy Williams’s razor-sharp strangeness in “The Girls” and Nathaniel Bellows’s tender portrait of loneliness and near-pedophilia, “First Four Measures”), as well as more straightforward, beautifully realized characters, from Tom Perotta, Lynne Sharon Schwartz and the short form’s impresario, Alice Munro. An equal number of stories feature exiles and the down-and-out and. Of these, Edward P. Jones’s gritty, heartfelt prison tale “Old Boys, Old Girls” and Charles D’Ambrosio’s spooky, endearing drifters in “The Scheme of Things” are notable, as are the immigrant tales from Rishi Reddi and David Bezmozgis. Linguistic innovation is evident throughout, from Reddi’s striking rendition of Indian English to the musical speech of George Saunders’s wonderful “Bohemians.” Genre-bending also appears throughout, at its best in the Calvino-esque series of parables in J. Robert Lennon’s “Eight Pieces for the Left Hand,” and the good humor of Tim Pratt’s Wild West fantasy “Hart and Boot.” Indeed, humor—from black-gallows to gentle chuckles—leavens the entire collection.
Even when repetitive (two stories about neurotical, sensitive piano-playing young boys?), the offerings are consistently interesting and often wonderfully weird.