A lively range of “startlingly original voices, and vivid, sophisticated sensibilities” is displayed in the latest installment of this always welcome annual.
As this year’s editor, short-story writer Bausch explains, the nation’s writing workshops continue to provide crucibles for impressively varied developing talents. Evidence abounds in the volume’s first two stories: a richly imagined realistic narrative in which a morose widower’s tense relationship with his adult daughter is complicated, and paradoxically enriched, by the death of their family’s beloved pet dog (Tucker Capps’s “Alice”); and a mordant, gripping fantasy (Jedediah Berry’s “Inheritance”) about a suburban husband obliged to deal with his macho father’s “legacy”: a hirsute “beast” discovered in his cellar, which excites his neighbors’ fears and his wife’s protective fascination. The other 15 stories trace a widening arc, from chronicles of adolescent and young-adult longing and bafflement (Jordan McMullin’s “Mouse”; Oriane Gabrielle Delfosse’s “Men and Boys”; Stefan McKinstray’s “No One Here Says What They Mean”), to compact bildüngsromans set in such distant locales as Bangladesh (Razia Sultana Khan’s ironic “Alms”), Cambodia (Sharon May’s “The Wizard of Kao-I-Dang”) and Israel’s West Bank (Adam Stumacher’s marvelous “The Neon Desert”). Though several stories feel formulaic or strained (notably, Christopher Stokes’s very odd “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller”), several others are standouts. In “Headlock,” Dan Pinkerton deftly dramatizes a suburban crisis involving a depressed industrial-arts teacher, his straying wife and the teenaged hunk who challenges the cuckolded spouse to change his life. Peter Mountford offers a wry variation on W. Somerset Maugham’s exotica in a rich study of generational and cultural conflict (“Horizon”) set in Sri Lanka. In “Surfacing,” Lauren Groff depicts with firm economy the strange lifelong relationship of a rich girl crippled during the 1918 influenza epidemic and the former Olympic athlete who saves, and forever alters, her life.
A mixed bag, but the choicest morsels are well worth digging for.