November 4, 2007 Sunday
The Virginian-Pilot Edition
Quality writing praised
BYLINE: JAKON HAYS
SECTION: DAILY BREAK; Pg. E8
LENGTH: 679 words
By Jakon Hays
A YEARLONG MISSION to liberate quality writing from the confines of the bottom of magazine stands. That is what Stephen King aimed for, and it's what he delivers in this year's collection of "Best American Short Stories."
Series editor Heidi Pitlor took charge of boiling down the bulk of 4,000 stories, but King went beyond his predecessor guest editors, reading hundreds of the stories himself.
In his introduction, King offers an insightful view into the current realities of short story writing, short stories in our culture, and what ultimately drives or forces the authors and editors into the selections they write and choose to include in their magazines. King detects a pulse in the American short story, but it is slowing and the prognosis is not good - partly because authors write what sells rather than writing for the love of writing, creativity and ultimately for their readers. King's compilation is a step-by-step regimen to be dissected and studied in order to learn what must be done to save and revive the short story format.
Working your way into the book, you may find yourself reading what you think is a somewhat plain, flat tale only to have your thoughts overturned in the realization that what you prejudged is a masterful story built on a deliberately flawed foundation meant to collapse in the last few pages. John Barth's "Toga Party" is a prime example of a skilled storyteller revealing his power at the last moment, planting a seed that lets the story remain with you for days.
A view inside a love affair between an Olympic gold swimmer, well into his 40s, and a 16-year-old school girl during the early 1900s is told by Lauren Groff in "L. DeBard and Aliette." Sexuality, power and manipulation, both emotional and physical, are wound into this illicit affair. The story, spanning years, illustrates the cause and effect of triumph over a crippling disease, the insensitivity of conceit and a vision of cruelty people can deliberately inflict on those they love and admire.
The theme of manipulation continues in "Allegiance" by Aryn Kyle. Marital infidelity and parental dysfunction tear and slowly degrade a family as its youngest member struggles to find her way among the dangers of the schoolyard social structure. The cruelty of classmates and the jockeying of her parents for power within their failing marriage can be uncomfortable to read.
Rounding out my favorites in this New York Times best-seller is the story of a retired intelligence operative whose duty it was to spread infectious diseases in countries deemed a threat to America. In "The Boy in Zaquitos," Bruce McAllister simply and skillfully develops a character that allows the reader to see the human side emerge from a being in an occupation that many of us assume to be without soul.
Jakon Hays is a news researcher for The Virginian-Pilot. email@example.com
Stephen King, editor
Houghton Mifflin. 448 pp. $14 (paper)
The annual "Best American" series includes the following, all available now. Most are $28 in hardback, $14 paper. Details:www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/features/best_american/
... Comics: Chris Ware, editor
... Essays: David Foster Wallace
... Mystery Stories: Carl Hiaasen
... Nonrequired Reading: Dave Eggers
... Science and Nature Writing: Richard Preston
... Spiritual Writing: Philip Zaleski
... Sports Writing: David Maraniss
... Travel Writing: Susan Orlean
on the bandwagon ...
* "The Best American Science Writing": Gina Kolata, editor (Ecco/HarperPerennial, $14.95)
* "The Best Buddhist Writing 2007": edited by Melvin McLeod and editors of the Shambhala Sun (Shambhala, $16.95)
* "Best New American Voices 2008: Fresh Fiction from the Top Writing Programs." Richard Bausch, ed. (Harcourt, $15). The programs, in the U.S. and Canada, include those at George Mason University, Hollins University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth (though none of this year's contributors is from any of those schools).
The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
November 23, 2008 Sunday
The Virginian-Pilot Edition
SECTION: DAILY BREAK; Pg. E3
LENGTH: 560 words
Guest editor Salman Rushdie admirably delivers a cross-section of short fiction in the 2008 "Best American Short Stories" (Houghton Mifflin, $14). Among the 20 from The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly and the like, established authors such as Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff and Kevin Brockmeier find their works next to offerings by newer standouts such as Katie Chase and Miroslav Penkov. Her "Man and Wife" and his "Buying Lenin" comfortably disturb the reader with writing that lingers. (Jakon Hays, The Pilot)