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The Best American Short Stories 2020

por Curtis Sittenfeld (Editor), Heidi Pitlor (Series editor)

Outros autores: Selena Anderson (Contribuidor), T.C. Boyle (Contribuidor), Jason Brown (Contribuidor), Michael Byers (Contribuidor), Emma Cline (Contribuidor)15 mais, Marian Crotty (Contribuidor), Carolyn Ferrell (Contribuidor), Mary Gaitskill (Contribuidor), Meng Jin (Contribuidor), Andrea Lee (Contribuidor), Sarah Thankam Mathews (Contribuidor), Elizabeth McCracken (Contribuidor), Scott Nadelson (Contribuidor), Leigh Newman (Contribuidor), Jane Pek (Contribuidor), Alejandro Puyana (Contribuidor), Anna Reeser (Contribuidor), William Pei Shih (Contribuidor), Kevin Wilson (Contribuidor), Tiphanie Yanique (Contribuidor)

Outros autores: Ver a secção outros autores.

Séries: The Best American Short Stories (2020)

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"To read their stories felt to me the way I suspect other people feel hearing jazz for the first time," recalls Curtis Sittenfeld of her initial encounter with the Best American Short Stories series. "They were windows into emotions I had and hadn't had, into other settings and circumstances and observations and relationships." Decades later, Sittenfeld was met by the same feeling selecting the stories for this year's edition. The result is a striking and nuanced collection, bringing to life awkward college students, disgraced public figures, raunchy grandparents, and mystical godmothers. To read these stories is to experience the transporting joys of discovery and affirmation, and to realize that story writing in America continues to flourish.  THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2020 INCLUDES T. C. BOYLE * EMMA CLINE * MARY GAITSKILL  ANDREA LEE * ELIZABETH McCRACKEN * ALEJANDRO PUYANA WILLIAM PEI SHIH * KEVIN WILSON and others… (mais)
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I am going to review these stories as I read them rather than waiting until I finish which could take a while. I will start with the first 3 stories which I have finished, and I will drop in when I finish more.

Godmother Tea: I really didn’t like these ramblings of a sad-sack urban girl. Nothing here felt authentic or edifying. I know the story is supposed to address the dissonance that flows from being a black woman who grows up in a mostly white milieu, private schools, liberal arts college, etc., and her flatlining relationships with white friends/partners post-college and flailing attempts to connect with black people. I want to hear that story, just from a better writer. I assume the titular Godmother is a magical realism enhanced metaphor for internal negative thoughts/voices but it feels more like the protagonist has had a psychotic break. 1-star

The Apartment: I have never loved Boyle's work in the past. This is not to say he is not a talented writer, just not a great match for my particular tastes. But this story really surprised me. The story is arch and funny (satisfied wry smile funny rather than chortle funny –this is from McSweeney’s after all.) The writing is really quite good. And the story, a man sets up an annuity through which he will acquire upon her death the apartment of an old, once rich, woman. Unfortunately, she has no interest in dying. It is hard to achieve dark and charming in the same work. 4.5-star.

A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed: Funny! Who 4doesn’t like a waspy family reunion through the eyes of, arguably, its most dysfunctional member? Two stories in a row about old people who refuse to die at the time others want them to die seems like overkill but I really liked both. The voice in this is enchanting; “…all people I loved but vaguely resented” is a wonderful description of extended family. Unlike The Apartment this one was actually, rather than just wryly, funny and I really laughed. 4.5-stars.

Sibling Rivalry: This tale is one of AI children dispersed among the bio people and the kids decide their type is better than the other. The constant references to the child not really belonging to the parents might be super problematic for adoptees and adoptive parents. They were uncomfortable for me and I have a bio-kid.

This parable about how children come to identify some children as "other" or "less than" also touches in the nearly impossible task of raising children to embrace fairness and logic in an unfair and illogical world. Also this touches on the big parenting question -- autonomy vs protection and the costs of getting things wrong, no matter how well intentioned. There just didn’t seem to be much new here and parts of it felt well-intentioned but clumsy, like a substandard episode of the Twilight Zone. 2-stars

The Nanny: I did not like Cline’s book The Girls, and I didn’t love this for the same reasons (though I liked it more than The Girls.) Cline writes about vain and immature girls obsessed with the space between their looks and actual beauty, looking to gain purchase, to feel beautiful and consequential by barnacling onto compelling men who dangle the opportunity to be fame adjacent. It is an interesting topic, but Cline has no critical distance – she is seemingly a vain and immature girl, and as a result her observations are banal at best, and often ridiculous. Maybe that is the point, maybe the mere act of bringing these characters to the page without analysis, without the lenses of experience, merit and wisdom, is the point. If so, I am the wrong reader. I was that girl, and when I was, I bored myself. It is the opportunity to understand a person's motivation that intersts me in fiction. I am not looking for simple reportage. That said, there are some stellar sentences and the story is well-constructed. One of the things I like in short stories is when you come in in the middle of things, all sorts of things happened already off the page and you sense that many things will be left to happen off the page and then you are in a race to figure out what is going on before the story ends and you are kicked out of the narrative. It creates a pleasing tension. 3-stars

Halloween: Charming little story about the sexual actualization and overwhelming life choices confusion of a high school senior … and her grandmother. 4-stars

Something Street: This is a fictional account of Camille Cosby’s life. It addresses the strictures on black women raised in relative wealth, the colorism, the treatment of women as nothing other than a vessel to serve men, the insistence on perfect appearance and manners for the Jack and Jill alumni. (I recalled a number of passages from Margo Jefferson’s Negroland as I read.) Appearances are everything, especially when one is aware of the judgmental white gaze, which obviously was very much on Camille Cosby. For Parenthia (the name of the character who is 100% a Camile facsimile) looking good, not raising a fuss, is the way she upholds all black people. This, it is implied is why she supported her rapist husband’s denial of his pattern of sexual assault. I do think the story creates some ground for empathy (something I had not felt prior to reading this) but honestly not a ton. I will say the very end confused me a bit. I think the author intended to raise issues around the performance of masculinity, but honestly, I am not really sure. Still interesting and well put together. 3.5 stars.

This is Pleasure: Just fantastic. A subtle #Metoo tale. I loved that the female narrator, a "friend" of the accused, was not aware that an abuser’s behavior toward her was unacceptable. She knew at some level she was mad at this man, her friend, and did not know why. This is something I don’t think people understand, that women are so socialized to accept certain behavior, to see it as complimentary even, that we don’t know we are being eroded even as we are. Also Gaitskill gives us a dimensional toxic man. This man’s behavior is gross, but he is also someone who lives to observe people and to challenge them and someone who thinks he loves women, thinks he treats women as they want him to. That he reads most every situation wrong is not entirely his fault. It is entitlement not malice at work here. The impact may be the same, but mens rea counts too. Gaitskill curbs the sympathy though, as she should, She makes clear that the long-term impact on the abuser as a result of the allegations against him will be minimal. Attractive white educated men of means are most always going to be just fine. And also, Gaitskill is just such a great writer. Even throwaway lines sing. She talks about good looking male cater waiters (unemployed actors and models need to eat) and says they “trail bruised dignity in their wake.” So freaking good. 5-stars

In the Event: At first this seems mostly to be about the difference between first gen Chinese Americans and more assimilated Chinese families with their big houses and American accents and their ability to navigate their lives. This story began to really pull me in, (buoyed as it was by the very good writing) but the focus then shifted. The protagonist, Chenchen appears to have severe depression and anxiety while Tony, her partner, is cheerful and attentive, and allows life to roll off of him. Chenchen never sees tension ease. Who can say where mental illness comes from. For Chenchen it is possibly from being raised with miserable uncommunicative parents who did not (probably could not, busy as they were with their isolation and misery) prepare her for American life. Chenchen seems to want disaster, to almost lust for it as she eschews all activity in favor of preparing for something unlikely to happen. But then Chenchen and Tony both find out that the real disasters are tiny and personal and are acts of volition not chance. Like voting for Trump. And betraying people's trust. 4-stars

The Children: A post-colonial free-for-all with fingers pointed at both Americans and Europeans, none of whom really do anything much to redress the harms visited by those who came before. While doing almost nothing to redress harm the people say they are doing their best, or “what more can you do.” Small charitable acts/offerings make them feel better about not really helping – in fact the do-gooders do harm by raising hope in those who have been particularly screwed over by the colonials. Our noble main characters cast aspersion on those who left wreckage, and yet they really do nothing good either, they just talk more about it. This was fine, the writing is direct, workmanlike, The end point seems to veer to a discussion of parenting, which really took the wind out of the sails of this one. 2.5-stars.

Rubberdust: Seems to capture a bit of childhood, particularly the mean parts, the friendlessness and bullying some kids endure and all kids witness. The title refers to the detritus of rubber erasers, which a formerly bullied child creates and shares with another bully to rub unto the hair of another bullied child. The main child feels bad about her bullying and tries to atone and the other bully goes blind. Then she is an adult. Literally, that is it. There are some clever devices in use in the story. The story shifts from 3rd to 1st person both suddenly and seamlessly. There are constant references to how they pronounced things in her village in the third person section so it is clear she is talking to an American. (“She circles the soccer (we pronounced it football ) field.”) There are some fun notes in the text that felt like actual workshop notes. Despite all those clever tools, I just did not get a lot from this. I guess as a series of vignettes to evoke childhood (the bad parts) it was fine. However, it felt like, as Tim Gunn would say ”student work.” I imagine the author was in a creative writing class and the instructor asked everyone to write about an event that changed who they were. 2.5-stars.

It's Not You: I love Elizabeth McCracken's writing, and her sense of humor, but her subject matter, or more accurately the way she views her subject matter, just always feels like it misses the point. This is one of those reader/author disconnects. She is talented, I am (I think) a good reader, but somehow we don't mesh. Individual passages astound me. Has anyone ever set a scene with such economy as:

"You shall know a rich man by his shirt, and so I did. Breakfast time in the breakfast room. The décor was old but kept up. Space-age, with stiff, Sputnikoid chandeliers. Dark-pink leather banquettes, rosy-pink carpets. Preposterous but wonderful."

I am there -- I don't need to know anything else. And has anyone ever described an evening of imagined heartbreak better than: "I built my drunkenness like a fire, patiently, enough space so it might blaze." McCracken writes just the way I like at the sentence level. It is always especially disappointing to not love the stories of a person who writes like that.

This vignette centers on a formative morning in the life of a young woman who has never experienced hardship and so creates drama around a whole lot of nothing. She has an encounter, brief but transformative, and that is what is covered in this very short story. I enjoyed is, but nothing stuck really. The writing is a 5 but subjectively I will call it a 3.5

Liberte There are artists I really dislike, though I know I am "supposed to" like them. One of those is Louise Nevelson. I guess there is comfort to be gleaned from this fictionalized account of Nevelson's very real shipboard encounter with doctor/writer/rabid anti-Semite/anti-Communist Louis Ferdinand Celine. Nevelson has just walked out on her husband and child and aboard her ship to American she decides she wants to get horizontal with someone who wants her dead. Celine is not a casual anti-Semite. He hates her, loathes her. This is not like slave owners who dehumanize and rape their slaves, there is no dehumanization here, Celine sees Nevelson as a human, loathsome because she is a Jew. He says while lamenting the general collapse of the world

"In times like these, who should rise to the surface, like shit floating on a flooded river Yes, the Jew. The bottom feeder. Thriving on the poison and decay of a poisoned culture. Poisoning it further. Until those few left with dignity must burn everything down and plant new seeds in the ashes."

Then he tries to kiss her. Nevelson does not become romantically involved with Celine, but she is enthralled by him and they did have some sort of relationship that continued for a long time. I don't think Nadlelson's story adds anything to this unpleasant tale. I would have preferred a non-fiction account but I am not sure enough is known for one to exist. I understand Nadleson's interest. The story seems inconceivable and it seems completely human to write a narrative that makes this story in some way comprehensible. That said, Nadelson did not bring me along. My reaction to reading the author's explanation of the underlying story (which can be found on Google) was something like "huh, Nevelson is as cold and meaningless as her sculptures." (Some of my best friends love Nevelson, lord knows there is no shortage of her work around NYC, but pared down tension is not enough to draw me in.) 2-stars

Howl Palace This story did something that astounds me when I am able to find it. It told me an entire story of a life in a tiny space. By saying that I do not mean to indicate that this feels rushed or that I wish it had been a novel. The writer makes such elegant choices about what snippets of conversation to include and what events to refer to. Also, the writer drops information bombs without foreshadowing them at all. I kind of liked being jerked around (in this context -- I am no glutton for punishment.) The MC, Dutch, is one of those resourceful rural women who can kill and dress an elk and keep the house running. Dutch has been married 5 times and has kept a hold of the house left to her by husband #1. Now she must sell the house to pay for a good place to live in her later years so she doesn't end up in a home. Single and about to be separated from her home there is nothing left to tether her. I loved learning about Dutch through her past and present and through her relationship with her current squeeze. Dutch is not nice, she is transactional in all things, including relationships. Some of what she does is pretty awful. If you are looking for likeable characters run away. I can't say more without spoilers. 5-stars

The Nine-Tailed Fox Explains This killed me. I read Jane Pek's first novel, The Verifiers, a few months back, and loved it. I was so looking forward to this story, written by a writer I just discovered about a subject I like. And then I read it and . . . well, it was short so that was good.

The nine-tailed fox is my favorite superstar of Chinese mythology. She appears in the form of a beautiful woman who seduces, bewitches and breaks men (who are, of course, its all the fault of the hot chick.) In this version Fox has a fight with the pipa spirit and as a result Fox ends up making choices that mean she can't be reincarnated. She keeps living in the same form, which is not a great option. To stay alive she must suck the vital essence of men (think succubus or Dracula, something along those lines.) She must leave China because they are destroying the mountain on which she lives, so she does what beautiful women who want to get out of their countries do --she becomes a mail order bride. Things happen, Americans are Americans, and Fox makes choices that appear cruel, but perhaps are not so much a sucking-the-life-out-of event as a needed change in perspective. She leaves behind her the gift of potential love with another. I get what she was doing, subverting the femme fatale trope, but I just did not think it was really well done. Good concept, but for me there were errors in execution. Sorry Jane! 2.5-stars

The Hands of Dirty Children I have no objection to message driven writing, but this was a bridge too far for me. I know there are kids like the kids in this story. kids who are poor, unsupervised, hopeless. It is tragic and deadly and there are too few bearers of light. The writer told me nothing I didn't know, evoked no feelings I did not already have, and resorted to some really off-putting cliches about rich people not paying attention, and poor people giving from the heart. 2-stars

Octopus VII Not a fan of this one either. In my 20s I knew tons of trust-fund kid artists who floated through life accomplishing nothing. A few even had talent, a few had drive, none that I knew had both. What they all lacked was a sense of direction. Parents think they are giving their kids freedom to do what the want, the intentions are good, but a person who does not carry the weight of others' expectations and who has their rent paid is likely to have a hard time knowing where to start when building a life. The MC in this story is one of those kids. Will he be savedar ruined by renouncing his art and embracing manual labor? You be the judge. 2-stars

Enlightenment I never say things are triggering, but this tale of an old professor grooming a young student was triggering -- and for no payoff. I think the story was about how knowledge does not equal enlightenment, but I might be wrong. I honestly have no idea what Shih was trying to do here, but I know I found it confusing and repellant. Either this is bad, or I am not smart enough to appreciate it. 1-star

Kennedy I can't explain why, but I loved this. Wilson exorcises his ghosts (the characters are based on him, a friend and their bully, though the actual events in the story are fiction.) I think most of us have events or interactions from our high school years that haunt us, where we question (are are even disgusted by) our actions/inactions and remain baffled by the behavior of others. Wilson ran with that. I wanted to hug all 3 boys, even the psychopathic one. This man can build empathy like no one else. 5-stars

The Special World This read like a novel treatment or summary, not short story. I talked in another review about the elegant choices the author made in what to include. This is a litany of inelegant choices. There is both too much and too little here. Also, it is lowkey anti-semetic. I was an ATL resident for 16 years. I was all in for a UGA and Ellenwood set story. Then I read it. 1.5 stars.

The math says this averages 3.05. A 3-star it is. ( )
  Narshkite | Jun 15, 2022 |
This was fine but didn't knock me out as a collection, though all the stories were well done. Maybe there were too many variations on a similar theme, a lot of drifting young adults and teenagers, and a few adults, who just seem a bit unmoored from life. Standouts for me were T.C. Boyle's "The Apartment," because it was just such a T.C. Boyle story; Michael Byers's "Sibling Rivalry," because it was a totally believable sf story all by itself in the collection; and Elizabeth McCracken's "It's Not You," because she's always so good. Looking back through them, I actually liked almost all of them—there was just nothing that left me going, "Wow, how'd they DO that?" Which is probably an awful lot to ask of a writer, I know. ( )
  lisapeet | Jan 5, 2021 |
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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Sittenfeld, CurtisEditorautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Pitlor, HeidiSeries editorautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Anderson, SelenaContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Boyle, T.C.Contribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Brown, JasonContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Byers, MichaelContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Cline, EmmaContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Crotty, MarianContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Ferrell, CarolynContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Gaitskill, MaryContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Jin, MengContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Lee, AndreaContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Mathews, Sarah ThankamContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
McCracken, ElizabethContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Nadelson, ScottContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Newman, LeighContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Pek, JaneContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Puyana, AlejandroContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Reeser, AnnaContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Shih, William PeiContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Wilson, KevinContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Yanique, TiphanieContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Bennett, GaryNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Collins, Kevin T.Narradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Crouch, MichaelNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Demerritt, WilliamNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Ganim, PeterNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Kay, CindyNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Leigh, TraceyNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Miles, RobinNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Nankani, SoneelaNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Ocampo, Ramón deNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Petkoff, RobertNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Plummer, ThereseNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Pressley, BrittanyNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Zackman, GabraNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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"To read their stories felt to me the way I suspect other people feel hearing jazz for the first time," recalls Curtis Sittenfeld of her initial encounter with the Best American Short Stories series. "They were windows into emotions I had and hadn't had, into other settings and circumstances and observations and relationships." Decades later, Sittenfeld was met by the same feeling selecting the stories for this year's edition. The result is a striking and nuanced collection, bringing to life awkward college students, disgraced public figures, raunchy grandparents, and mystical godmothers. To read these stories is to experience the transporting joys of discovery and affirmation, and to realize that story writing in America continues to flourish.  THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2020 INCLUDES T. C. BOYLE * EMMA CLINE * MARY GAITSKILL  ANDREA LEE * ELIZABETH McCRACKEN * ALEJANDRO PUYANA WILLIAM PEI SHIH * KEVIN WILSON and others

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