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The Best American Short Stories 2003

The Best American Short Stories 2003

by Walter Mosley (Editor), Katrina Kenison (Editor)

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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who


Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected—and most popular—of its kind.
Lending a fresh perspective to a perennial favorite, Walter Mosley has chosen unforgettable short stories by both renowned writers and exciting newcomers. The Best American Short Stories 2003 features poignant tales that explore the nuances of family life and love, birth and death. Here are stories that will, as Mosley writes in his introduction, "live with the reader long after the words have been translated into ideas and dreams. That's because a good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs."

Dorothy Allison Edwidge Danticat E. L. Doctorow Louise Erdrich Adam Haslett ZZ Packer Mona Simpson Mary Yukari Waters

Editorial Reviews

Charles Taylor
Killing Johnny Fry is a frankly pornographic novel, and I mean that as a compliment. It would be unfair to what Mosley is attempting here - to put sex at the center of Cordell’s existence and to turn the reader on in the process - to describe the sex scenes with that wan word “erotica,” a word almost always used to demonstrate that the user is above those coarse enough to be aroused by mere pornography. And judged solely by its intentions to appeal to what prosecutors in obscenity cases used to call the prurient interest, the novel is a success. Good porn is tough to write and when talented writers decide it shouldn’t be left to the hacks, the result can be something as joyous as Nicholson Baker’s Vox and The Fermata. Or even something as voluptuously smutty as the porn-for-cash Alexander Trocchi turned out for Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press.
— The New York Times
Tracy Quan
When a national treasure like Mosley decides to publish a dirty novel, snippy reactions are inevitable. Does a journey of sexual discovery have to be quite this filthy? But if Cordell's misadventures were too palatable, if this were a novel one could read over lunch, it wouldn't be authentic porn. Fans of his Easy Rawlins series might be put off by the surreal absurdity, but perhaps Mosley is reaching out to new readers. Or, like Bill Clinton, a fan of Mosley's early work, perhaps he's doing something audacious because he can.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Mosley returns from the vastly underrated Fortunate Son and from Fear of the Dark with a piece of what one might call "deep erotica": there's plenty of sex, and also plenty of motivation for it within protagonist Cordel Carmel's travails and ruminations, as far-fetched as they can get. After a charged-but-chaste lunch with young Lucy Carmichael (a blonde in her early 20s looking to be introduced to Cordel's art agent friend), Cordel, 45, walks in on Joelle (his longtime, non-live-in girlfriend): Joelle's being very consensually sodomized by a white man wearing a red condom, their (very well-endowed) mutual acquaintance, Johnny Fry. Cordel walks out quietly, without being seen. In short order, Cordel buys a porno video and gets enraptured with its sadist star, Sisypha; quits his freelance-translation gig; has conflicted, amazing sex with Joelle (who continues to lie to him); has unconflicted, amazing sex with Lucy (who seems very nice) and with voluptuous neighbor Sasha Bennett (who seems way crazy); meets Sisypha for an Eyes Wide Shut-like experience; seduces the young, ghetto Monica Wells; and finally, within the week, has his confrontation with Johnny Fry. Though it all, Cordel's thoughts on humiliation, submission, pain, family, aging and abuse manage to sustain the wisp-thin plot of this total male fantasy. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Like his last two adult novels (The Wave and Fortunate Son), Mosley's latest is a departure from his best-selling Easy Rawlins mysteries. His protagonist, 45-year-old translator Cordell Carmel, considers himself lucky that girlfriend Joelle is so undemanding that they spend only one night a week together. Stopping by Joelle's apartment unannounced one day, he discovers her with another man, aspiring musician Johnny Fry. That night, Cordell buys his first X-rated DVD and begins a journey of sexual self-discovery. Watching The Myth of Sisypha, the vividly described adult film he has purchased, opens Cordell's eyes to a world of sex and power, pleasure and pain. He explores his renewed sexual energy with a young photographer he's helping, an attractive neighbor, a French student he meets on the subway, and Sisypha herself. Mosley's decision to subtitle the book "a sexistenial novel" implies a more philosophical approach to sexuality than the gratuitous sexual episodes described here. Recommended only for libraries with strong demand for all of Mosley's work.-Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
And now for something completely different from Easy Rawlins' prolific creator (Cinnamon Kiss, 2005, etc.), who's branching out into still another genre. Cordell Carmel, a middle-aged New York translator everybody calls "L," decides one afternoon on his way to a conference to wait a few hours for a first-class train to Philadelphia. Heading over to girlfriend Joelle Petty's apartment, he finds her sharing a frantic embrace with Johnny Fry, a white man who'd like to switch from being a personal trainer to playing classical guitar. Instead of calling attention to himself, L leaves quietly (though he does turn back briefly when he thinks Jo is crying out in pain) and proceeds to pull down the edifice of his carefully constructed life. He smashes his hand against a brick wall, orders a high-fat meal, buys an expensive bottle of cognac and takes home a porn video, The Myth of Sisypha, that puts him in touch with his appetite for passion and pain. The next day, after missing the conference and infuriating his agent, L begins to grab every chance at a new life. He reinvents himself as an agent for photographer Lucy Carmichael, flirts with female acquaintances and takes three of them to bed, then returns to Jo bent on getting some of the kind of wild, crazy sex she's been enjoying with Johnny. But it's The Myth of Sisypha that has the most profound impact on L, and when he has a chance to meet the video's star and embark on a series of scenarios that cross the line from NC-17 to XXX, his obsessions with getting off and killing Johnny are joined by another kind of desire as tender as it is unlikely. An interesting look at a male in midlife crisis. As L says, "I had come alive. And lifehurt."Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis Agency Inc.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Best American Short Stories Series
Edition description:
Older Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Americans Dreaming

Whenever anyone asks my opinion about the difference between novels and short stories, I tell them that there is no distinction between the genres. They are essentially the same thing, I always reply.
How can you say that? the fiction lover asks. Stories are small gems, perfectly cut to expose every facet of an idea, which is in turn illuminated by ten thousand tiny shafts of light.
But I hold my ground, answering the metaphor with a simile. A novel, I say, is like a mountain — superior, vast, and immense. Its apex is in the clouds and it appears to us as a higher being — a divinity. Mountains loom and challenge; they contain myriad life forms and cannot be seen by anyone attempting the climb. Mountains can be understood only by years of negotiating their trails and sheer faces. They contain a wide variety of atmospheres and are complex and immortal.
You cannot approach a mountain unless you are completely prepared for the challenge. In much the same way, you can’t begin to read (or write) a novel without attempting to embrace a life much larger than the range of any singular human experience.
Thinking in this way, I understand the mountain and the novel to be impossible in everyday human terms. Both emerge from a distance that can be approached only by faith. And when you get there, all you find is yourself. The beauty or terror you experience is your understanding of how far you’ve come, your being stretched further than is humanly possible.
The fiction lover agrees. She says, Yes, of course. The novel is a large thing. The novel stands against the backdrop of human existence just as mountains dominate the landscape. But stories are simple things, small aspects of human foibles and quirks. A story can be held in a glance or a half- remembered dream.
It’s a good argument, and I wouldn’t refute it. But I will say that if novels are mountains, then stories are far-flung islands that one comes upon in the limitless horizon of the sea. Not big islands like Hawaii, but small, craggy atolls inhabited by eclectic and nomadic life forms that found their way there in spite of tremendous odds. One of these small islets can be fully explored in a few hours. There’s a grotto, a sandy beach, a new species of wolf spider, and maybe the remnants of an ancient culture that came here and moved on or, possibly, just died out.
These geologic comparisons would seem to support the fiction reader’s claim that novels and short stories are different categories, distant cousins in the linguistic universe. But where did those wolf spiders come from? And who were the people who came here and died? And why, when I walk around this footprint of land, do I feel that something new arises with each day? I eat fish that live in the caves below the waves. I see dark shadows down there. I dream of the firmament that lies below the ocean, the mountain that holds up that small span of land.
I cannot climb the mountain that sits in the sea, but from where I stand it comes to me in detritus and dreams.
Short story writers must be confident of that suboceanic mountain in order to place their tale in the world. After all, fiction mostly resides in the imagination of the reader. All the writer can do is hint at a world that calls forth the dream, telling the story that exhorts us to call the possibility into being.
The writers represented in this collection have told stories that suggest much larger ideas. I found myself presented with the challenge of simple human love contrasted against structures as large as religion and death. The desire to be loved or to be seen, represented on a canvas so broad that it would take years to explain all the roots that bring us to the resolution.
In many of the stories we find exiles, people who have lost their loved ones, their homelands, their way. These stories are simple and exquisite, but they aren’t merely tales of personal loss. Mothers have left us long before the mountains were shifted by southward-moving ice floes. Men have been broken by their dreams for almost as long as the continents have been drifting. And every day someone opens her eyes and sees a world that she never expected could be there.
These short stories are vast structures existing mostly in the subconscious of our cultural history. They will live with the reader long after the words have been translated into ideas and dreams. That’s because a good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs. A good short story asks a question that can’t be answered in simple terms. And even if we come up with some understanding, years later, while glancing out of a window, the story still has the potentiall to return, to alter right there in our mind and change everything.

—Walter Mosley

Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Comppany.... Introduction copyright © 2003 by Walter Mosley. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

Walter Mosley is the award-winning author of the story collection Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and its sequel, Walkin’ the Dog, as well as five Easy Rawlins mysteries. His novel RJ’s Dream was a finalist for the NAACP Award in Fiction.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
January 12, 1952
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A., Johnson State College

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