The Best American Short Stories 2001

The Best American Short Stories 2001

by Barbara Kingsolver

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This year’s Best American Short Stories is edited by the critically acclaimed and best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver, whose latest book is Prodigal Summer. Kingsolver’s selections for The Best American Short Stories 2001 showcase a wide variety of new voices and masters, such as Alice Munro, Rick Moody, Dorothy West, and John Updike. “Reading

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This year’s Best American Short Stories is edited by the critically acclaimed and best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver, whose latest book is Prodigal Summer. Kingsolver’s selections for The Best American Short Stories 2001 showcase a wide variety of new voices and masters, such as Alice Munro, Rick Moody, Dorothy West, and John Updike. “Reading these stories was both a distraction from and an anchor to the complexities of my life—my pleasure, my companionship, my salvation. I hope they will be yours.”—Barbara Kingsolver

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
If the 20 stories in this year's collection have any one thing in common, it is their substance and seriousness of purpose. This is mostly a good thing entries by veteran writers like Alice Munro, John Updike and Annette Sanford, and by relative newcomers like Andrea Barrett, Barbara Klein Moss and Peter Orner are intellectually stimulating and satisfying but the inclusion of a few lighter selections might have leavened the mix. Munro is her usual magical self in "Post and Beam," in which a young Vancouver wife comes to terms with the immutability of married life. Ha Jin, in "After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town," tells of the impact an American fast food franchise in China has on both employees and customers, imparting a number of reasons why East and West will never see eye to eye. "Servants of the Map," the extraordinary novella- length story by Barrett, tells the tale of an English mapmaker in 1860s India struggling with his demanding job, loneliness and, most of all, his unquenchable desire to be a botanist. In Orner's brief tale, "The Raft," a grandfather ushers his grandson into a closet to tell him an old WWII story in a new way. Sanford's contribution short, too tells how a 16-year-old girl seemingly doing nothing for the summer is preparing for adult life. The careful character development, subtle drama and pristine prose of these selections should once again thoroughly satisfy fans of quality short fiction. $200,000 marketing campaign; sweepstakes promotion. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his introduction to Prize Stories 2001, editor Dark notes an increase in the number of longer stories, or novellas, being published in literary journals. To reflect this trend, Dark chose to publish three longer pieces, bringing the total number of stories in this year's volume to 17 rather than the usual 20. One of these, Mary Swan's "The Deep," an absorbing account of twin sisters in the World War I era, was chosen as the best story of the year. Runners up were Dan Chaon's "Big Me" and Alice Munro's "Floating Bridge." Munro also receives a special citation for her continued notable work in the short story form. Dark writes that he was torn between Munro's above-mentioned story and her equally fine "Post and Beam;" happily, the latter appears in Best American Short Stories 2001. Kingsolver narrowed her selections by opting for only those that "tell me something I don't already know." So we get funny and intriguing views of other cultures, such as Ha Jin's "After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town," which is about the workers in an American fast-food restaurant in China; Katherine Shonk's "My Mother's Garden," set near post-disaster Chernobyl; and Trevanian's sly Basque fable, "The Apple Tree." Two well-deserving stories, Elizabeth Graver's "The Mourning Door" and Andrea Barrett's "Servants of the Map," appear in both volumes. Both volumes are valuable additions to academic and larger public libraries. Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An excellent new edition of this popular anthology. As might be expected from the author of several carefully researched novels (Prodigal Summer, 2000, etc.), guest editor Kingsolver suggests a predilection for stories with extraordinary content. In a lively introduction, she lays out three criteria for her selections: "They've told me something remarkable, they are beautifully executed, and they are nested in truth." And most of the stories here do have "something remarkable" to tell. Rather than depicting the subtleties of "everyday American life," these tales usually opt for more exotic subjects. Ha Jin's "After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town" depicts what it's like to work at an American fast food restaurant in China, while Peter Ho Davies's "Think of England" takes place in and around a Welsh countryside pub on the night after the D-day landing. Katherine Shonk's "My Mother's Garden" presents life near Chernobyl's contaminated zone, while Andrea Barrett's "Servants of the Map" centers on a British surveyor in the Himalayas during the 1860s. The stories not set in far-flung locations are often about unusual perspectives, like that of the morbidly obese man in Claire Davis's "Labors of the Heart" or of the character in Rick Bass's ultra-factual "The Fireman." Such tales can leave one with the feeling of having read nonfiction as much as fiction. Kingsolver allows quotidian subject matter only if it's in the hands of an Alice Munro ("Post and Beam") or a John Updike ("Personal Archeology"). Younger writers-a generous number are here-have to earn their way by writing about Hong Kong, Madagascar, or Buffalo in the1930s. Also of interest is a posthumously published story by the HarlemRenaissance writer Dorothy West (1907-98). A vibrant, diverse collection.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Best American Short Stories Series
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.89(d)

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ForewordIN THE 1942 VOLUME of The Best American Short Stories, the anthology's new annual editor, Martha Foley, attempted to define the form. "A good short story," she wrote, "is a story which is not too long and which gives the reader the feeling he has undergone a memorable experience." Over the past eleven years, during my own tenure as annual editor of this eighty-six-year-old series, I've run across numerous other writers' attempts to come up with some sort of standard by which to measure the short story. Few have managed to add much to Ms. Foley's democratic and rather obvious criteria. At symposiums and writers' conferences, I've learned to duck and weave around the inevitable question "What do you look for in a short story?" I wish I knew! Heart? Soul? Truth? Voice? Integrity of intention and skill in execution? The answer is all of the above, and none of the above. For I don't really "look" for anything; when a story works, I know it in my gut, not in my head, and only then — after laughing, after brushing away a tear, after taking a moment to catch my breath and return to the here and now — do I set about analyzing the successes and failures of a writer's effort. It would certainly be nice to have a checklist, a foolproof grading system, a tally sheet of pluses and minuses. But reading is a subjective activity, even for those of us who are fortunate enough to read for a living. We editors may read more pages than the average American, and we may read faster, but when it comes right down to it, I believe we all read for the same reason: in order to test our own knowledge of life and to enlarge on it. Out of the three thousand or so short stories I read in any given year, I may file two hundred away. And I always marvel at how precious this stash of chosen fiction seems to me; these are the stories that, for one reason or another, exerted some kind of hold on the priorities of my heart. Even now, I have boxes of old stories, going back a decade and more, stacked up in the basement; I've saved every file card I've filled out since 1990 as well — a treasure trove of stories, a king's ransom of human wisdom caught and held on those hundreds of moldering pages. When it comes to cleaning closets, I'm ruthless. But those stories . . . well, how could I throw them away? Who knows when a particular bit of fiction will prove useful? Someday, I think, someone will need that story about the emotional roller coaster of new motherhood; or this one, which reminds us what sixteen years old really feels like; or that one, which could help a friend prepare for death . . . Toward year's end, I sift through the current piles and begin to ship batches of tales off to the guest editor, always wondering whether he or she will share my tastes and predilections and curious to know whether the narrative voice that whispered so urgently in my ear will speak with as much power to another. Truth be told, it is an anxious time. Just as, when I was a teenager, I wanted my parents to agree that my boyfriend was indeed Prince Charming, I can't help but hope that the guest editor will share my passion for the year's collection of short story suitors. I have no clue about Barbara Kingsolver's taste in men, but I discovered right away that she and I could fall in love with the same short stories. And when her introduction to this volume came spooling through my fax machine, I stood there reading it page by page, nodding in agreement with her discoveries and full of gratitude for the pickiness (her word) and devotion she brought to this task of reading, judging, and finally choosing. And then, as the next-to-last page emerged into my waiting hands, I saw it: a new definition for the short story, at last. To Martha Foley's sixty-year-old criteria we can now add Barbara Kingsolver's useful dictum: "A good short story cannot simply be Lit Lite, but the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces." Writers take heed! In choosing this year's collection of The Best American Short Stories, Kingsolver has done writers and readers a great service, for her own love for the form and her exacting standards have resulted in a volume that is as varied in subject matter, style, voice, and intent as even the most eclectic reader could wish for. Collectively, these stories hum with the energy of twenty disparate voices raised under one roof. They are a testament to our contemporary writers' vigorous engagement with the world and to the robust good health of American short fiction. Some years ago, John Updike revealed, "Writing fiction, as those of us who do it know, is, beneath the anxious travail of it, a bliss, a healing, an elicitation of order from disorder, a praise of what is, a salvaging of otherwise overlookable truths from the ruthless sweep of generalization, a beating of daily dross into something shimmering and absolute." Mr. Updike, who made his first appearance in The Best American Short Stories in 1959, returns this year for the twelfth time as a contributor. (He also served as guest editor in 1984 and coedited The Best American Short Stories of the Century, published in 1999.) He is the only writer in the history of the series to appear in these pages for six consecutive decades — an achievement that we feel is worth noting. May he continue to beat the daily dross into such shimmering and absolute works as "Personal Archeology," which begins on page 326. The stories chosen for this anthology were originally published between January 2000 and January 2001. The qualifications for selection are (1) original publication in nationally distributed American or Canadian periodicals; (2) publication in English by writers who are American or Canadian, or who have made the United States or Canada their home; (3) original publication as short stories (excerpts of novels are not knowingly considered). A list of magazines consulted for this volume appears at the back of the book.

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