The across-the-pond rejoinder to Best American Short Stories delivers another fine collection of continental conjuring.
To judge by this sparkling anthology, the eighth in the series, Europeans live in high places and are given to throwing themselves from them—or at least in front of buses. The protagonist of Danish writer Ida Jessen’s “Postcard to Annie,” for instance, lives in an attic room from which “she could see the red rooftops of Trøjborg, the woods, and the bay of Aarhus Bugt.” We should have a sense of foreboding: Scandinavian gloom and heights do not make a good combination, but the story resolves in vehicular mayhem instead, which just makes the protagonist hungry, if a touch world-weary. In Mikkel Bugge’s contribution from Norway, a “girl leaps from the fifth floor wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume,” while in Macedonian writer Snežana Mladenovska Angjelkov’s “Beba,” the jumper is less clearly defined: “Something fell from the building. I didn’t see exactly what it was.” What that “something” is lies at the heart of her pensive, economical tale. Other writers take those heights even higher: more than one turns to outer space, including Liechtenstein’s contribution to the proceedings, in which binational writer Jonathan Huston imagines a grumpy retired astronaut, very much in his dotage, recalling a lunar rock whose “color was alien, like a rainbow trapped in amber, graceful and fragile and bound to give the geologists on Earth wet dreams.” Wet dreams? Well, it being Europe and all, there’s some sex, mostly understated and angst-y—and on that aging continent there’s also a pronounced thematic preference for the experiences of the old, such as the narrator of Ticinese writer Giovanni Orelli’s “Death by Laughter,” who is “ninety nine point nine years old, a hundred let’s say,” with all the intimations of mortality attendant.
Generalizations aside, the 29 stories here are excellent and frequently brilliant, with none of the workshopped feel of so many of their American counterparts. Of interest to literary readers of English on both sides of the water.