Currently Reading:

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Best American Short Stories 2007

Stephen King (ed.)
The Best American Short Stories 2007

Best American Short Stories

When I started to read The Best American Short Stories 2007, I was afraid it was going to be an entirely grim affair. Much like The Best American Essays 2005, it seemed like it was written exclusively for the gratification of rich New Englanders. People in the Hamptons. They’re rich. They’re sad and lonely. Whatever are we to do, darling? There’s just nothing in the story that speaks to me. You’re rich. You’re sad and lonely. Get over it.

Fortunately, there are a few gems in the collection. “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell is pure fancy, creative, whimsical, unlike anything I’ve ever read. “Wake” by Beverly Jensen is equal parts William Faulkner and Ray Bradbury, and a fun (if unimportant) read. And Alice Munro’s “Dimension” is a completely fascinating take on violent crime, in which the victim finds that the murderer of her children is the only one who can really understand the gravity of her experience.

In the only-slightly-ironic forward, guest editor Stephen King laments the decline of the American short story. (I don’t doubt that there are those who would argue that he has helped to hasten its decline, but I digress.) But I wonder how true it is. Has the short story really been in decline, or are the good old days never really as good as we think they were? It might be true that fewer people are buying short stories; it might even be true that printed literary magazines are on the decline. They’re small runs, expensive to produce, and so bear a high cover price that most of us won’t pay. But anybody with twenty dollars and an Internet connection can start their own online literary magazine, dedicated to whatever they like. Star Trek fan fiction? More than you can shake a tribble at. Snuff erotica? No problem. First person stories about being sad and lonely? Welcome to the blogosphere.

The short story is in decline? Hardly. It’s just no longer the exclusive domain of rich New Englanders with MFAs. They’ve been writing stories for each other for decades. Now the Trekkies are doing the same. The medium morphs, and you can pine all you like for the good old days of The Cathedral, but we now live in the age of The Bazaar. Or The Bizarre, as the first-person Star Trek snuff erotica goes.