American Short Story

On the train south, over rolling twilight hills, I spent the drab hours consuming a thick green tome – Best American Short stories 2004. This won’t be a review of the content within. More of a small remark –

The title was a lie. False advertising. How could these tales, these half-slices of drab lives, as grey as the dusky countryside, attain the crowning achievement of anthology? Most were from the New Yorker.

There was the one about the young construction worker who wins a caged African wildcat, attempted to leverage it into relationship with the animal-lover waitress. Could have been the pilot script for the newest CW teen-sation (complete with awkward flirtations, Gap tie-ins).

There was the one about the whiny farmwife, timid (and metaphorically represented by a runaway goat). Or the bigoted western businessman, whose real-estate deal goes the way of his marriage – south.

These were character studies that went on far too long, of weak people, pounded down by an array of eccentric, perhaps exotic circumstances. Usually rural, if only to give the author the chance to parade about colloquial phonic-izations (snooty ivory tower chuckling to follow).

Stephen King identifies as much in his intro essay here for the 2007 edition. Lets hope those he’s picked have some merit, some excitement, aren’t afraid of the dreaded “genre” label. If anything, King actually has the cajones to put the MFA litsnobs in their place.

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