Politically charged, diverse installment of the long-running literary annual.
Writes general editor Pitlor, American fiction writers today work in an atmosphere of political decline, racism, corruption, and casual violence, and consequently they “are now faced with the significant challenge of producing work that will sustain a reader’s attention amid this larger narrative.” Adds volume editor Gay, who read 120 submissions to make this anthology, “I thought about this cultural moment and what it means to both write politically and read politically.” The stories included here are of a uniformly high quality, without a dud among them, though it has to be said that only some of them are overt in their political stance, even if many concern the lives of those who are essentially powerless in an American arena that has become truly Darwinian. On that note, the opening story concerns a young man who, living in a trailer on the edge of a Montana forest, must face two essential losses, one the disappearance of his father (“One member of the search committee, a homeless asshole there for the free lunch, pulled me aside and told me it was 'them aliens’ who took my father”), the other the death of the family dog via a mountain lion that, after all, is just doing its job. Maria Anderson’s "Cougar," from the Iowa Review, is a masterpiece of charged compression; there’s a lot happening in the space of just a few pages. Other standouts are Esmé Weijun Wang’s “What Terrible Thing It Was,” a delicate story of madness (“Even knowing that I am not alone would be its own strange balm”) that could just as easily appear in a horror anthology, and Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s “Control Negro,” whose double-edged title speaks volumes to the terrible price an African-American pays for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As ever, a welcome portrait of the state of the art in contemporary short fiction writing, a literature of resistance.