"NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: The Year's Best, 1995" by Shannon--Ed. Ravenel

"NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: The Year's Best, 1995"

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The tenth installment in an increasingly successful series holds few surprises but contains a fair amount of accomplished and original short fiction. Editor Ravenel seems to have sedulously combed the little magazines for talent. Of the 17 stories included, 15 were first published in such noncommercial venues; of their 17 authors, only 5 bear established and familiar names. One hopes NSFTS really isn't beginning to take itself a teensy bit too seriously--there's an ""Instructor's Manual available,"" for heaven's sake. Also, conventional disillusioning coming-of-age experiences and endearing varieties of regional eccentricity are rather too generously represented. That said, hearty recommendation may be given to Robert Olen Butler's ""Boy Born with Tattoo of Elvis,"" a vivid slice of lowborn Louisiana life featuring pitch-perfect first-person narration; Ellen Gilchrist's ""The Stucco House,"" in which the periodic neurotic unravelling of Gilchrist's recurring character, Rhoda Manning, is quietly observed by her long-suffering small son and new husband; and ""Drummer Down,"" a raffish illustration of Barry Hannah's good-ole-boy comic surrealism, replete with his trademark verbal surprises. From newer writers, the standouts are Jesse Lee Kercheval's ""Gravity"" (one of two in the volume so titled), the observant, sweetly funny tale of a 12-year-old tomboy's hospitalization and convalescence after she's injured falling out of a tree; Scott Gould's ""Bases,"" in which a glimmer of racial understanding emerges surprisingly from the tensions between a white boys' Little League team and a gang of excluded black kids; and--the collection's prize piece--Tim Gautreaux's ""The Bug Man,"" a richly woven portrayal of an average-Joe local exterminator's growing familiarity with the lives of his clients and the consequent raising, then destroying, of his hopes for a better life. On balance, there's enough good work here to make readers look forward to next year's selection--and to want to follow the careers of Gautreaux, Gould, Kercheval, and several of their young anthology-mates.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Algonquin