Monday, April 9, 2012

The Best American Stories 1988 – Edited by Mark Helprin

One of the first things I do upon beginning one of these volumes is to flip to the table of contents, glance over the titles and authors, then jump into the introduction written by the editor. It’s usually a task which takes up all of 15 minutes.

Nothing was different with BASS ’88, I glanced over the TOC, saw a few familiar faces, Rick Bass, Richard Bausch, Mavis Gallant, Louise Erdrich, Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. I then started in on the introduction and after the third page, I could tell that Helprin was about to take me on a long ride.

I slowly flipped the pages in the introduction and flipped the pages and flipped the pages. –Wow- this was some “introduction”. I immediately was put off by the length of the intro and became upset with Helprin for using the space to spout off. I let the book rest for a bit, went back to it, read some more, thought about the intro and then let it rest some more.

If I was given the space in front of a collection like the BASS I believe that I too would write whatever I damned well pleased. I commend Helprin for his introduction. Unlike some of the other introductions in previous editions which simply gave the editor’s impressions on the state of the short story, or the art of writing a short story, followed by a brief summary of the stories contained and a mild opinion of each. Helprin spins off on a massive essay opinion on everything from minimalist writers to women authors, classic literature, writing programs and left-wing politics.

He certainly provided me with plenty to consider and I had to place my mind in the late 1980’s to fully appreciate when he was coming from.

As much as I may have agreed or disagreed with what he wrote, weighing out his thoughts was worth the time spent.

At this point in my introduction, I like to reflect back to where I was when these stories were collected and published.

In 1988, I turned 16.

I was driving a car on my own, I was a sophomore in high school and I had a solid set of friends and even a girlfriend that I thought I would marry (don’t most of us at that age?). I was doing just enough academically in school to remain “average” and mostly, I would hover just above “below average” and this would set itself into my pattern of achievement throughout my time in organized education. I hadn’t discovered the riches that literature could fully provide at this point. I was much more interested in music, girls and goofing off. My family life was solid. Mom was working hard as a teacher and my step-father who was fully retired at this point was holding down the fort. We always had a hot dinner. I delivered newspapers after school and woke early on the weekends to deliver the weekend editions. This kept money in my pocket for gas and helping out with car insurance. I could also buy a cassette tape every few weeks. I didn’t have my own car but shared my mother’s 1981 Chevette. My sister and I were still visiting my dad up in PA on holidays and during the summer.

Overall, life was really good.

Much as it is now.

I've come across Mr. Helprin before...and we had a wonderful first encounter.

It was over The Schreuderspitze which I absolutly loved.

And with that, let’s get to reading.

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