New Stories from the South: The Year's Best 2001

Overview

Not just the year's best stories from Southern writers, or the year's best stories about the South arguably the best American short stories published in the U.S." (Virginia Quarterly Review)

The South is both as it always was, and a profoundly different place than it used to be. But it still seems to be true, as Lee Smith says, that "narrative is in the air. This year's collection ranges from decaying farms to department stores, from small towns to thriving cities, tracking the ...

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Overview

Not just the year's best stories from Southern writers, or the year's best stories about the South arguably the best American short stories published in the U.S." (Virginia Quarterly Review)

The South is both as it always was, and a profoundly different place than it used to be. But it still seems to be true, as Lee Smith says, that "narrative is in the air. This year's collection ranges from decaying farms to department stores, from small towns to thriving cities, tracking the likes of a violent paperhanger, a boy who kidnaps his school bus driver, an ambitious fiddler, and a failed adman. Once again, New Stories from the South is full to the brim with evocative, hilarious, moving, authentic, rip-your-heart-out stories.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
There are no weak links in this collection of 20 stories, though with the exceptions of John Barth and Madison Smartt Bell, the series' 16th volume lacks household names. Editor Ravenel has done her usual superb job of finding a variety of stories that encompass virtually all aspects of Southern life. "The Paperhanger" by William Gay, a frequent contributor, involves a girl who mysteriously vanishes, and her parents' subsequent ruin. The paperhanger of the title reveals himself to be "one sick puppy," as one of the locals observes, and the ending of this tale is not for the faint of heart. In "Jolie-Gray" by Ingrid Hill (a talented writer still waiting for her big break), what appears to be a leisurely, how-I-spent-my-summer vacation story suddenly turns sinister when 15-year-old Jolie-Gray is turned out onto the streets of New Orleans by a deceitful relative and left to fend for herself. Jane Shippen in "I Am Not Like Nu?ez" draws a frightening portrait of another 15-year-old, Charlotte Kay, known as Sharky, who with her pill-popping stripper mother and delinquent young brother, Nu?ez, is on a fast track to trouble and oblivion. The most humorous story is "In Between Things" by Marshall Boswell, in which a couple are only happy dating when they are officially no longer a couple. Barth's story "The Rest of Your Life," more accessible than most of his writing, hinges on a computer suddenly changing the current date to August 27, 1956, and all the speculations, memories and possibilities inherent in such a situation. This is a fine showcase for the South's many talented writers. (Sept. 14) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sixteenth volume in one of the generally most satisfying annual anthologies of contemporary fiction. In a conversational preface about her sushi bar in North Carolina, a paradigm for the evolving region, novelist Lee Smith provides this year's answer to the anthology's knotty implied question, "What is the South, anyway?" "We Southerners love a story," she writes. "This is the main thing that has not changed . . . [and] that will never change." The contributors this time around would probably agree: most are younger writers just putting a novel or two behind them, and each has a significant, connection to the region. Many of the stories, admittedly, are sluggish and perform a single narrative trick, like "Saturday Morning Car Wash Club," about how one boy fools a bunch of bullies to get his car washed ("no big whoop," James Ellis Thomas aptly observes in the author's note). But there are a handful that shine. Christie Hodgen's piercingly sad "The Hero of Loneliness" tells of an adopted boy's struggle with his inner demons, which prompt a lifetime of wandering. George Singleton offers "Public Relations," a mirthful portrait of a p.r. shark who destroys companies for a living and attempts to keep his private life whole. Edith Pearlman's "Skin Deep" adores two unrelated characters who pursue their single, celibate lives with a sense of satisfying completeness. Nicola Mason's "The Whimsied World" consists of five dreamlike "miniatures," loopy but engaging fables about everyday objects. Immediately recognizable writers include Madison Smartt Bell, whose unaffected (if not artless) narratives are buoyed only by his fluent, gentle style; and John Barth, who tells us that the default of hiscomputer's date-function inspired this story about time, aging, and memory. No anthology satisfies all readers, but Ravenel's editorial eye is as sharp as ever, appealing to the center of the heart rather than the middle of the brow.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565123113
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/14/2001
  • Series: New Stories from the South Series
  • Edition number: 16
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Shannon Ravenel has edited New Stories from the South since 1986. Formerly editorial director of Algonquin Books, she now directs her Algonquin imprint, Shannon Ravenel Books. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Lee Smith is the author of sixteen previous books of fiction, including the bestselling novels Fair and Tender Ladies and The Last Girls, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. Also the recipient of the 1999 Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Her website is www.leesmith.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Lee Smith - PREFACE: DRIVING MISS DAISY CRAZY; OR, LOSING THE MIND OF THE SOUTH
I want to start by introducing you to Miss Daisy. Chances are, you already know her. She may be your mother. She may be your aunt. Or you may have your own private Miss Daisy, as I do: a prim, well-educated maiden lady of a certain age who has taken up permanent residence in a neat little room in the frontal lobe of my brain. I wish she'd move, but as she points out to me constantly, she's just no trouble at all. She lives on angel food cake and she-crab soup, which she heats up on a little ring right there in her room.
Miss Daisy was an English teacher at a private girls school for forty-three years, back in the days when English was English-before it became Language Arts. She was famous for her ability to diagram sentences, any sentence at all, even sentences so complex that their diagrams on the board looked like blueprints for a cathedral. Her favorite poet is Sidney Lanier. She likes to be elevated. She is still in a book club, but it is not Oprah's book club. In fact, Miss Daisy is not quite sure who Oprah is, believing that her name is Okra Winfrey, and asking me repeatedly what all the fuss is about. Miss Daisy's book club can ?nd scarcely a thing to elevate them these days, so they have taken to reading Gone with the Wind over and over again.
Miss Daisy's favorite word is ought, as in, "You ought to go to church this morning." She often punctuates her sentences with "you know," as in, "Lee Marshall, you know you don't believe that!" or, "Lee Marshall, you know you don't mean it!" She believes it is true about the two ladies who got kicked out of the Nashville Junior League:one for having an orgasm, and the other for having a job.
In fact, Miss Daisy reminds me of another lady I encountered many years ago, when I moved down to Alabama to become a reporter for the Tuscaloosa News. The former editor of the ladies page of the paper had just retired. "Thank God!" everybody said, since for many years she had ceased to write up events in the paper the way they actually happened, preferring instead to write them up the way she thought they should have happened.
Pat Conroy has said that the South runs on denial. I think this is true. We learn denial in the cradle and carry it to the grave. It is absolutely essential to being a lady, for instance. I myself was sent from the mountains of southwest Virginia, where I was growing up, down to Birmingham every summer to stay with my Aunt Gay Gay, whose task was to turn me into a lady. Gay Gay's two specialities were Rising to the Occasion and Rising Above It All, whatever "it" happened to be. Gay Gay believed that if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all. If you don't discuss something, it doesn't exist. She drank a lot of gin and tonics and sometimes she'd start in on them early, winking at my Uncle Bob and saying, "Pour me one, honey, it's already dark underneath the house." Until she died, I never knew that another of my aunts had had a previous marriage. It had been edited right out of the family, in the same way all pictures of that husband had been removed from the family albums.
Denial affects not only our personal lives, but also our political lives, our culture, and our literature. In her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison talks about a kind of denial she sees operating in American literature and criticism; she chides liberal critics for what she calls their "neglect of darkness." She says that "the habit of ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, even generous, liberal gesture . . . but excising the political from the life of the mind is a sacri?ce that has proven costly. . . . A criticism that needs to insist that literature is not only 'universal' but also 'race-free' risks lobotomizing that literature, and diminishes both the art and the artist." Morrison suggests that Black characters in classic American novels have been as marginalized as their real-life counterparts.
But back to Miss Daisy. I'm taking her out to lunch today. Miss Daisy claims she "just eats like a bird," not deigning to confess to anything as base as hunger or even appetite, but she does like to go out to lunch. And while she's making her ?nal preparations-that is, clean underwear in case we are in a wreck, gloves, money safely tucked in her bra in case her purse is stolen-let me tell you about this restaurant we're going to.
You may be surprised to learn that I actually own this restaurant, and that it is actually a sushi bar. But, hey! It's the New South, remember? And actually, my sushi bar (named Akai Hana and located in Carrboro, North Carolina) presents a little case study in the New South.
The land Akai Hana stands on today, at 313 N. Main St, was farmland not so very long ago, when Carrboro was a dusty, sleepy little farm village on the old road from Chapel Hill to Greensboro. This was an open ?eld, with a tenant house at the end of it. Then Carr Mill came in, and mill houses sprouted up in neat little rows, like beans, to house the families that worked at Carr Mill. As the university grew, Chapel Hill grew, too, spreading outward toward
Carrboro, which gradually became a service adjunct of Chapel Hill. This was the place you came to buy your grass seed or to get your tires ?xed at the Chapel Hill Tire Company, right across the street from us. Carrboro was mostly black then, and all poor. Miss Daisy never came here except to pick up her cook. Every business in Carrboro closed at noon on Wednesday, because everybody went to church on Wednesday night. And nothing was open on Sunday.
The ?rst restaurant to occupy our brick building here, constructed in the early ?fties, was a popular, locally owned café named the Elite Lunch, which featured Southern cooking and lots of it. It had two dining rooms, one for white and one for colored. In the early sixties it was superseded by Pizza Villa, whose name alone testi?es to Chapel Hill's-and Carrboro's-increasing sophistication. By now, plenty of graduate students and even some professors lived in Carrboro. The mill had closed, and those mill houses were affordable.
By the mid-seventies, when an outrageously colorful chef took over and turned it into Avanti, Carrboro was coming of age. The mill became Carr Mill Mall, ?lled with trendy boutiques. A cooperative health-food grocery named Weaver Street opened up. Artists moved in. Carrboro started calling itself "The Paris of the Piedmont."
Avanti's chef hung paintings by his artist friends. He stuck candles in wine bottles on each of his artfully mismatched tables. He opened the patio for outdoor dining. He made soup with forty cloves of garlic. Then, even Avanti was superseded by the truly gourmet Martini's. The owner's wife's mother came from Italy to run the kitchen, while her homemade pasta dried on broomsticks upstairs. My ?rst husband and I had some memorable meals there, and my present husband remembers that he was eating polenta in this very gazebo when a former girlfriend gave him the gate. Ah, what sweet revenge it is now to own that gazebo, which we have (of course) transformed into a pagoda.
But back to our narrative. The owner died in a wreck, Martini's closed, and the restaurant underwent a total transformation before opening again, for breakfast and lunch only, as a bakery and café, very French, with a marble ?oor and lace curtains at the windows. Pre-Starbucks, it served muf?ns accompanied by the ?rst good coffee in Carrboro.
We bought the place from the muf?n ladies. Why? You might well ask. Have I always had a burning desire to go into the sushi business? No, actually, my own attitude toward raw ?sh is closer to Roy Blount's poem about oysters:
I prefer my oysters fried
Then I know my oyster's died.
It was my husband's idea. He calls my son the "Samurai stepson," and their favorite thing to do together has always been to go out for sushi. The closing of the only sushi bar in town coincided with this son's recovery from a severe bipolar disorder. New medications made it possible for him to have a regular life, and what better job could a Samurai stepson get than in a sushi bar? (I can hear Miss Daisy saying in my ear, "Now Lee Marshall, you know you shouldn't have told that!" But I am telling it anyway.) We held long conferences with Bob, the sushi chef. We met with the muf?n ladies and with the bank. We hired a designer and a construction ?rm. We were under way, even though nobody except us thought this was a good idea. Our accountant was horri?ed. The guys from the tire shop across the street kept coming over to ask, "How's the bait shop coming along?"
Now we've been open for a little over four years. Let me introduce you around.
Bob, manager and head chef, hails from the coastal North Carolina town of Swansboro. At college in Chapel Hill, he wrote poetry and played guitar until his wanderlust led him to California, where he eventually became an ardent convert of the Reverend Moon and joined the Uni?cation Church. He married his Japanese wife, Ryoko, in a ceremony of twenty-?ve thousand couples in Madison Square Garden. They are still happily married, with six beautiful children.
Under Bob's direction, Akai Hana employs people from diverse backgrounds, including Hispanic, Burmese, Thai, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, African American, and African. Meet Rick, for instance, who heads the kitchen in back (yes, we do have cooked food, for people like Miss Daisy, who is enjoying some grilled teriyaki chicken right now). Anyway, both Rick and his wife, a beautician, are Chinese Filipinos who have been in this country for eighteen years, sending for their siblings one by one. Their son, a physician, is now completing his residency in Seattle. Their daughter, who recently earned her doctorate in public health, works for a world health organization in L.A. Rick's nephew Brian, one of our wait staff, plays saxophone in the UNC jazz band.
Ye-tun, a cook and a former Burmese freedom ?ghter whose nickname is "Yel," proudly showed me a picture of himself coming through the jungle dressed in camo, carrying an AK-47. Now my husband calls him the "Rebel Yell," but nobody gets it.
Okay: Bob, Ryoko, Brian, Helen Choi, Ye-tun, Miguel, Jose, Genita, Mister Chiba, and Mister Choi-these people are Southerners. We are all Southerners. Akai Hana is a Southern restaurant, just like Miss Pittypat's or Hardee's.
Judging merely from our lunch at Akai Hana, we are going to have to seriously overhaul our image of the South, and of Southerners, for this millennium.
I called up John Shelton Reed, over at the university, to get some statistics:
My little piece of land in Carrboro is typical. The South was two-thirds rural in the 1930s. Now it is over two-thirds urban. One half of all Southerners were farmworkers in the thirties; now that ?gure is at 2 percent. And out of those farmworkers in the thirties, one half were tenant farmers. Now we have no tenant farmers, but migrant workers instead.
As the largest metro areas continue to attract people and jobs, the viability of rural life comes increasingly into question. One half of all the new jobs in this country are being created in the South, with nine out of ten of them in Texas, Florida, and a dozen metropolitan areas, including the Research Triangle here in North Carolina, where Carrboro is located.
Our Southern birth rate, which used to be famously above the national average, is now below it. This means that immigration is de?ning the South's population. Ten years from now, Texas will have a 57 percent nonwhite population. Florida will have a 54 percent nonwhite population. Some of the "big nine" states that now contain half the U.S. population will be eclipsed by the "New South": Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Among African Americans, there was a great migration out of the South in the twenties, the thirties, and on into the ?fties. But in the 1970s more blacks started moving to the South-in many instances, back to the South-than leaving it. That trend has now accelerated.
Well, all these statistics have given Miss Daisy a headache. She just doesn't have a head for ?gures, anyway. She'd like some dessert, but Akai Hana serves only green tea ice cream, which is too weird to even think about, in Miss Daisy's opinion. So we pay up and drive around the block to Dip's Country Kitchen, where Dip Council, Miss Daisy's former cook, has opened her big, fancy new restaurant. She's published a cookbook, too. She's been written up by Calvin Trillin and Craig Claiborne; she's been on TV. She's an entrepreneur now. Miss Daisy orders the lemon chess pie. I go for the peach cobbler myself.
Some things never change. Some Southern food will never go out of style, no matter how much it may get nouveaued. And large parts of the South still look a lot like they used to-the Appalachian coal country where I'm from, for instance, and the old Cotton Belt. As a whole, we Southerners are still religious, and we are still violent. We'll bring you a casserole, but we'll kill you, too. Southern women, both black and white, have always been more likely than Northern women to work outside the home, despite the image projected by such country lyrics as "Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed, this women's liberation is
a-going to your head." It was not because we were so liberated; it's because we were so poor. This, too, is changing: now our per capita income is at 92 percent of the national average.
With all these changes, what should I tell my student, one of my very favorite students, who burst into tears after we attended a reading together at which Elizabeth Spencer read her ?ne short story entitled "Cousins." "I'll never be a Southern writer!" my student wailed. "I don't even know my cousins!" Raised in a military household, relocated many times, she had absolutely no sense of place, no sense of the past, no sense of family. How did she spend her childhood? I asked. In the mall in Fayetteville, North Carolina, she tearfully confessed, sneaking cigarettes and drinking Cokes.
I told her she was lucky.
But she was also right. For a writer cannot pick her material any more than she can pick her parents; her material is given to her by the circumstances of her birth, by how she ?rst hears language. And if she happens to be Southern, these given factors may already be trite, even before she sits down at her computer to begin. Her neurasthenic, fragile Aunt Lena is already trite, her mean, scary cousin Bobby Lee is already trite, her columned, shuttered house in Natchez is already trite. Far better to start out from the mall in Fayetteville, illicit cigarette in hand, with no cousins to hold her back, and venture forth fearlessly into the New South.
I once heard George Garrett say that the House of Fiction has many rooms. Well, the House of Southern Fiction is in the process of remodeling. It needs so many more rooms that we've got brand-new wings shooting out from the main house in every direction. It looks like one of those pictures of the sun as drawn by a second-grader. In fact, that's the name of it-the House of the Rising Sun-which is right over here by the interstate. I'll run you by it as we drive Miss Daisy home.
Look-there's my student right now, knocking on the door, suitcase in hand. She doesn't know yet that once she takes a room in there, she can never come out again. She doesn't understand that she's giving up her family and her home forever, that as soon as she writes about these things she will lose them, in a way, though she will mythologize them in her work, the way we all do, with all our little hometowns of the heart.
Allan Gurganus has called ours "the literature of nostalgia," pointing out that many of the great anthems of the South are written from a position of exile such as "Way down upon the Swanee River"; "I wish I was in the land of cotton"; James Taylor's "going to Carolina in my mind"; or "Country roads, take me home."
The writer puts herself in exile by the very act of writing. She will feel guilty about leaving, and for the rest of her life, she will write, in part, to expunge this guilt. Back home, they will be embarrassed by what she's become, wishing that she'd married a surgeon and joined the Country Club instead. Mostly, they just won't mention it, sticking to safer subjects.
Miss Daisy and I sit in the car watching my student, who keeps banging on the door, trying to get in there. "Honey, don't do it!" Miss Daisy rolls down her window and cries across the grass. "Go back home! It's not too late to stop!" But of course it is. Now my student is trying to peer in a window, shading her eyes with her hand.
Oh, I remember when I was that age myself, desperate for a room in the House of the Rising Sun. You think you'll pay for it out of your day job, and maybe you will for a while, but you'll whore out, too, eventually. We all do. The House of the Rising Sun is full of desperate characters. Some of us are drinking ourselves to death quietly, in our rooms, or loudly, at MLA. A lot of us are involved in secret affairs and unseemly couplings-we'd be real embarrassed if everybody knew who we're sleeping with. Some of us just can't do it anymore, but we put on our makeup anyway, and sit at the window all dressed up, and talk about doing it.
Look! The door is opening, just a crack. It's the Madam herself, but she stands just far enough back in the shadows so you can't really see who she is-maybe it's Shannon Ravenel, or maybe it's Okra.
My student slips inside. She does not look back.
"Well, I never!" Miss Daisy announces before falling over into a dead faint on the seat beside me.
But I know she'll be all right. I know she'll be herself again by the time I get her back to her room, and she'll be talking about what's happened to my student, and she'll make a big story out of it, and she will never, ever, shut up.
This is the main thing that has not changed about the South, in my opinion-that will never change. We Southerners love a story, and will tell you anything. Narrative is as necessary to us as air. We use the story to transmit information as well as to while away the time. In periods of stress and change, the story becomes even more important. In the telling of it we discover or af?rm who we are, why we exist, what we should do. The story brings order and delight. Its form is inherently pleasing, and deeply satisfying to us. Because it has a beginning, middle, and end, it gives a recognizable shape to the muddle and chaos of our lives.
Just look at Miss Daisy now. She's already sitting back up on the seat fanning herself and going on and on about what happened to that poor girl, which reminds her of another awful thing that happened to her niece Margaret's daughter, not the Margaret I know that lives in Atlanta, but the other one that lives in middle Tennessee who was never quite right in the head after that terrible automobile accident that happened when she was not but six, when Cousin Dan was driving in that open car, you know he was such an alcoholic. . . .
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Table of Contents

PREFACE: DRIVING MISS DAISY CRAZY; OR, LOSING THE MIND OF THE SOUTH

Moira Crone, WHERE WHAT GETS INTO PEOPLE COMES FROM (1)

James Ellis Thomas, THE SATURDAY MORNING CAR WASH CLUB (18)

Christie Hodgen, THE HERO OF LONELINESS (29)

Elizabeth Tippens, MAKES A WISH (48)

Ingrid Hill, JOLIE-GRAY (69)

Linda Wendling, INAPPROPRIATE BABIES (102)

Jane R. Shippen, I AM NOT LIKE NUNEZ (118)

George Singleton, PUBLIC RELATIONS (139)

William Gay, THE PAPERHANGER (154)

Robert Love Taylor; PINK MIRACLE IN EAST TENNESSEE (173)

Jim Grimsley, JESUS IS SENDING YOU THIS MESSAGE (194)

Marshall Boswell, IN BETWEEN THINGS (206)

Nicola Mason, THE WHIMSIED WORLD (226)

Madison Smart Bell, TWO LIVES (234)

Carrie Brown, FATHER JUDGE RUN (246)

Edith Pearlman, SKIN DEEP (269)

Kurt Rheinheimer, SHOES (279)

Stephen Coyne, HUNTING COUNTRY (296)

John Barth, THE REST OF YOUR LIFE (306)

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