Houghton Mifflin, October 2009
In the foreword to The Best American Short Stories 2009, series editor Heidi Pitlor asks, "Does anyone still read fiction?"
The question chills the spine, and leaves the silent room in which it's read seeming a little quieter still. What is the sound of a storyless world, whose literary canon lies long forgotten somewhere in the distant past?
If you don't read any other fiction this year, read this book of short stories. If you are recovering from heart failure and are not sure if your heart is still working properly, then read this book of short stories. If you can't remember the last time you cried alone in a room with nothing but a book and a ticking clock, then read this book of short stories, and remember what it is to be alive, to laugh out loud, to be a member of the human race, the animal who tells stories.
Drug addicts, mythical creatures, hurricanes, stars, political fugitives - they're all here, within the pages of this book. The guest editor and final selection maker Alice Sebold has assembled twenty stories, each of which in her own words "deserves to be read." All of these stories will pull at the readers' heart strings, and teach them something about themselves and the times in which we live. Even the childless and orphaned will garner a new understanding and appreciation for the love good parents have for their children. Citizens of free societies will remember for a moment to not take for granted the cloak of law and order, and even starving artists in New York City may think they have it good after reading about taking a show on the road in the mountains of rural South America.
This collection of short stories does not have a bad offering in it, and it would be difficult to single out any one as the very best. However, Jill McCorkle's "Magic Words" manages to be an entire novel in just sixteen pages, with incredible character development and plot motion in the fewest imaginable words. In "Hurricanes Anonymous" Adam Johnson reveals the true colors of his characters with the subtlest of pens, forcing sneaky grins across readers' faces as he captures the moment that a boy decides to be a man. And even those whose yawn reflex is activated by the words "Civil War" will find themselves astonished at how Ethan Rutherford's "The Peripatetic Coffin" has them commiserating with the doomed Confederate mariners aboard the South's first submarine.
If you enjoyed The Best American Short Stories 2008
, which was exceptional, then you will absolutely love the 2009 edition, which is even better. If you have never indulged in this series before, then this is the one to try.