The Best American Short Stories 2011

This blog isn’t my best one, but it has links to stories so follow through. : )

Now, before I write this blog, I want to make known that these are not my chosen best stories, but Geraldine Brooks chosen stories.  And even then, Geraldine was only able to look at nominated stories from various editors and magazines.  Therefore, she may have not even read some of the very best America has to offer because they were not put in front of her to read.  I think a lot of people assume that Geraldine Brooks peruses her way through numerous literary journals and anthologies looking for only the best work by previously unknown authors, famous, Jacuzzi-bathtub-in-my-kitchen authors, semi-famous authors, or authors of other genres who have now partaken in the short delight of story writing.  This is not the case, the stories placed in front of Geraldine are stories that editors (mostly) submit to this anthology hoping their magazine will get a place among the “best.”   Usually, (and in this edition) The New Yorker will trump all and be the King of All Short Stories another year in a row.  Where is the Queen to knight this “best” magazine?  Also, I want to say that this book was given to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pre-release.

That all being said, these are the best.  I was reading with that shocked and awe face, a mix of “how the hell did I not write this first?” and “damn, I need to write that sentence down in my notebook of endless, and random quotes.”  I got so enthralled in some of these under-30-page stories that I was on google, stalking the authors to see where they lived, when their daughter got married, and how often they use the bathroom.  For instance, Megan Mayhew Bergman, who wrote “Housewifery Acts” which first appeared in One Story lives on a farm with her veterinarian husband where she dons floppy, straw summer hats and writes stories about women searching for birds in zoos, and plumber’s homes.   It sounds a little cooky, and at times it goes a bit off the edge, but it’s beautifully written and probably my favorite story within the collection.

I think I appreciated this Best American Short Stories edition because it kept me going and wanting to read more.  While I normally don’t read science fiction, “Escape from Spiderhead,” by George Saunders, which first appeared in The New Yorker, had me totally hooked.  The doctors within the spider capsule had figured out how to make people fall in and out of love (with all the sex you could want).  Personally, I don’t read romance novels either, but I like a good raunchy sex scene in my novels.  I’m not saying I need a Nora Roberts love story, but two people who just do it for the sake of feeling another warm body in close proximity – I can get into that.  I like the fact in “Escape from Spiderhead” that Saunders somehow created the idea that love was a silly joke, while at the same time throwing in an unusual experience with all kinds of chemicals, and mad scientists at work.  (I didn’t too much like the ending, but that’s a personal problem).

I believe the story can be read here. (Just in case you need to add a little science spice into your day at the desk, or before you walk the dog).

The other stories had tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, made me want to throw the book clear into my closet and let my cat use it for poop paper, and made me fall in love with story writing all over again (which is a feat, since I’ve been so lost for a while now.  It’s not so bad being one of the lost boys though, is it)?  I would name more of my favorites, but they’re all so impeccable, so here’s a short diddy on each:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote the story entitled “Ceiling” which first appeared in, Granta, which is by far one of my most favorite literary journals of all time.   At the heart of this story, is a nickname given during a sexual exploit (doesn’t it already have you all heated up)?  But, it becomes a story of broken love, and forced love.  Obviously, since the broken love doesn’t work out – what do we do as a human race (I’m guilty of it too), but we jump into the next and hope this love is stronger, works better, makes our muscles ache, our heads expand and over-analyze, and makes us wonder, just simply wonder.  The story begins when the main character receives an e-mail from the other half of his broken heart…

Megan Mayhew Bergman has already been explained, but “Housewifery Acts” is the tale of a woman seeking out her mother’s bird just so she can hear her mother’s voice again.

Tom Bissell wrote “A Bridge Underwater,” which first appeared in Agni, and is about a husband and wife on their honeymoon.  I could really stop there and you all could explore in your mind all the travesties, joy, and ridiculousness that could ensue, but instead we find ourselves in a historic Jewish temple with a man who refuses to wear a yamulke.

Jennifer Egan who also wrote the latest best-seller, A Visit from the Goon Squad, wrote the story “Out of Body” first published in Tin House.  It is a piece from A Visit from the Goon Squad (which I will have to pick up immediately) with a lot of drugs, a boy in love with a girl he can’t have, and another boy who has her.  Obviously that’s the cut and dry of it, this story was probably my second favorite in the collection.

Nathan Englander wrote “Free Fruit for Young Widows” which would be my favorite story, except it’s very depressing.  (And I’m a fan of the sad, darkness).  It first appeared in The New Yorker (ouuuuu, ahhhh).  It’s inherently about a father-son relationship and how a son is learning the ways of the world through his father’s fruit stand and how his father interacts with the men and women who come there.  It’s also about Nazi Germany, death, and violence.  It’s beautiful, there is no other word for that cliche, over-used word beautiful, for this story.

It can be read here.

Allegra Goodman wrote “La Vita Nouva” which is about a women who has lost her fiance.   It first appeared in The New Yorker and can be read here. It’s funny how simple some of these are just to pinpoint a flat out cause for all of the effects a writer can create through a story.  It’s blowing my mind right now as I write this.  It begins with the wedding dress, and the author claims “she dreamed about it all the time.”

Ehud Havazelet wrote “Gurov in Manhatten” which I honestly can’t remember.  It first appeared in TriQuarterly.

Caitlin Horrocks wrote, ‘The Sleep” which if I was a literature student, I could pinpoint that it was post-modern and a fantasy story gone real.  It first appeared in The Atlantic Fiction for Kindle and can be bought here.  “The Sleep” is about a small town that decides to hibernate through winter and the effects on…well, everything: media, the town, the children, the librarian, Christmas, lighting candles in the Church for prayer, and a man who has just lost his wife and is the “president” of the sleep.

Bret Anthony Johnston wrote “Soldier of Fortune,” which is the story of a teenage boy with a crush on the girl across the street who has a family emergency and its affects on him years later.  (It has some sex, and some sadness – two things I genuinely need in a book).  It first appeared in Glimmer Train.

A review of this story also appears at the bottom of this blog page.

Claire Keegan wrote, “Foster” which is the story of the heart.  And that’s all I have to say.  It’s up there in my favorites.   It first appeared in The New Yorker.  Please go read it here, it’s amazing, seriously.

Sam Lypsyte wrote, “The Dungeon Master” which is about what else, but Dungeons and Dragons.  I was creepily obsessed with this story after reading it since I felt I had an inside look at the “geekery” game.  It made me want to whip out my sworded princess with braided hair and get to work on killin’ some drunk beggars, or getting hit with a case of syphilis.  It first appeared in The New Yorker.  Geez, The New Yorker is rackin’ up stories in here.  It can be read, as well, here.

Rebecca Makai wrote, “Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart,” which once again, I have forgotten.  It was first published in Tin House.

Elizabeth McCraken wrote, “Property” which is the story of a widower who moves into a house in bad need of some TLC.  The story unfolds with renter, landlord, and a moldy art studio.  It first appeared in Granta.

Steven Millhauser wrote, “Phantoms” which is a pseudo-ghost story about a town full of phantoms.  It’s written in a totally new, and awesome way and it’s one of the best stories on the page.  It’s up in my top stories of this collection just because it’s eerie, and the plot is all f*cked up. It first appeared in McSweeney’s.

Ricardo Nuila wrote, “Dog Bites.”  It’s is about a father who basically places fear into his child to the point that his child has “episodes.”  The story unfolds and by the end we understand the “dog bites” title.  I’m not much for medical stories, or stories that are a bit blurry – so this one wasn’t my all time favorite.  It first appeared in McSweeney’s as well.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote, “ID” which is about, of all things Oates, a girl in low socioeconomic situations who doesn’t know where her mother is and is forced into a situation where she must ID a body with police insistence.  Like all things Oates, it’s gripping, eerie, and disturbing.  It first appeared in The New Yorker.

It can be read here.

Richard Powers wrote, “To the Measures Fall,” which I loved because it was kind of the history of one book, according to one woman.  I said that all wrong, it was one woman’s history with one fateful book, maybe that’s better?  Who knows, it’s great.  It first appeared in The New Yorker.

It can be read here (with a membership).

Jess Row wrote, “The Call of Blood,” which confused the hell out of me.  Let me be honest, for the first six pages I had no clue what these characters were doing, thrown together among death (as people usually are, I assume) and why there was a weird since of displacement.  Now, I realize why, but something about it still irks me.  It’s about a nurse caring for a patient who has a daughter that is sophisticated and hard.  It was first published in The Harvard Review.

George Saunders has already been discussed.  It was published in The New Yorker.

It can be read here.

Mark Slouka wrote, “The Hare’s Mask” which is just the right amount of creepy, and just the right amount of daddy’s girl.  It was one of my favorite stories in the book because it shows the ways in which children become adults and how they think they know adult things, but later realize otherwise.  At the heart of the story, is a hidden man, a few slaughtered rabbits and a daughter trying to understand.  It’s unbelievably good.  It was first published by Harper’s Magazine.  

It can be read here. 

Here are also some other blogs, journals, newspapers, radio programs etc who have reviewed this book (and may give better mini-synopses of each book).

12 thoughts on “The Best American Short Stories 2011

    • Cassie says:

      Ahh! Good! I think all The New Yorker ones are available and maybe a few others if I put them up. I hope you really enjoy them – please let me know what you thought. :)

  1. wideawakeness says:

    Hello, darling dear.

    Here’s my new blog, on WordPress. I LOVE that you’re reading “My Mother, She Killled Me.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around B&N with it under my arm, only to put it back on the shelf and buy something lame, like “Pillars of the Earth.”

    I love your blog, and you. Hoping that mine gets to be as entertaining and readable as yours one day <3

    Nat

    • Cassie says:

      Haha, It’s a super easy read – I just read one fairytale before bed and then I have super-awesome-super-hero-mixed-with-Grimm dreams at night and wake up feeling refreshed, and able to ride dragons.

      Pretty spectacular. :)

      I’ll let you borrow it after I’m done…in like two months. One story a day doesn’t really get me anyway.

      So excited to keep up with you as well. missing you.

  2. ClaireMcA says:

    I have had a few people mention anthologies of short stories to me recently on a blog post I wrote about short stories and I also LOVE to read Granta.

    Now I’ve found some great sources and resources, so thanks, I could spend all day browsing through your blog, its a real treasure chest. Your reading list is impressive and your journey is fabulous.

    Continue to enjoy and share!

    • Cassie says:

      Isn’t Granta amazing?!!? It’s definitely one of my favorite literary magazines that pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable in the sometimes snobbish world of literary magazines. I think their work is always raw and fresh.

      You should read the latest Best American Shorts because this is the first one that I thought the majority of stories were really amazing. In particular Megan Mahew Bergman (I think I have that right, I follow her on twitter) Housewifery Acts is AMAZING. If you just read that one story, you will be a changed person.

      Thank you for commenting and browsing – I’m doing the same with yours, you have SO many recommendations I’m interested in reading because we have similar reading styles. And, I RARELY find people who like to read the same strange things as me.

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