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am 6. Mai 2000
I am a big fan of the "Best American Short Stories" series, an annual collection compiled and published by the Houghton Mifflin Company because I can't get around to reading all those great stories in all those great magazines flooding the market. I've been behind for so long, I was glad when I recently discovered a collection entitled "Best American Short Stories of the Century" edited by John Updike -- a sort of best of the best.
Some years, I have found the annual anthology more appealing, and some years less so. "The Best American Short Stories, 1999" edited by Amy Tan is very entertaining and more memorable than the collections of the past few years. My acid test is this -- can I remember today the gist of a story I read last month? In other words, did it leave a lasting impression? Tan's selections are holding up pretty well. I won't soon forget 'The Hermit's Story', the first entry in her book. I discovered something very remarkable when I read it, but I can't share it because I don't want to ruin the story for you.
These anthologies reflect the taste of the guest editor, as well as the skill of the chosen writers, but why not? Katrina Kenison, the Series Editor, says there's a surfeit of great material, so why shouldn't the guest editor reflect her outlook with her selection.
I think Tan's stories show she is very interested in the 'minority' viewpoint. You might imagine this occurs because Amy Tan is a Chinese descent American, and maybe it does. However, when I use the term minority I mean interestingly idiosyncratic.
Odd and unusual people populate these stories, and odd things happen to them. Of course, if they didn't have unusual experiences we might not find the energy to finish the page. But oddity alone is not enought to sustain the reader. One has to experience a connection with the character. I came to care what happened to most of these oddballs.
Visualize Pam Houston's character, a young woman who says, " When I was four years old and with my parents in Palm Beach, Florida, I pulled a seven-hundred-pound cement urn off its pedestal and onto my legs crushing both femurs." Or, consider this excerpt from Melissa Hardy's tale, "'Once,' Mrs Flowers told George, 'she ate a whole pile of socks I was fixing to darn. Another time she ate a Bible'." I feel frustration, sorrow, and/or amusement when I read these words. The stories grip, they entertain, they amuse. The are some of America's best short stories.
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I suppose if you like the tone and style found typically in BEST SHORT STORIES of XXXX you'll like this. For me, I find them--and especially this one--boring. After having read it, I was left with absolutely nothing: no profound revelation, no mental challenge, no rivalry at any sort of level. A sort of hell with no exit, with each turn of the page, each turn to a new story, a sort of rolling of the rock uphill. I finally had to put it down in the middle of THE BEST GIRLFRIEND.... In these stories, people live, people search, people quest...for fulfillment of common desires or exit out of circumstances that are simply silly. And in the end, nothing new is learned, no revelation discovered, not even a glimpse of some shadow of a holy grail. Just time precious time wasted that can never be recovered. Better to spend that time sitting in the corner, watching the spiders hunt. These books enlighten you nil.
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am 28. Dezember 1999
This year's collection of "America's Best Short Stories" was a surprising mix. "The Piano Tuner" was remarkable, in my opinion, and almost all of the other stories were fairly decent selections as well. Amy Tan, I would agree, did not pick the best set of stories I've seen in this series to date, and her intro was rather asinine and mundane, almost cliched at times. However, there are some gems here, and I would say that while one reviewer cringed at the inclusion of a so called "B-writer," Pam Houston, in this case, it is this kind of writing that, for me at least, makes the series so compelling and exciting. Discovering new authors, and watching an up and coming author evolve in style from year to year is the most rewarding facet of this series.
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am 22. Oktober 1999
So I read the Hermit's Story as the lead off and skipped the next four stories because they just couldn't hold my interest through the first few sentences. The rest of the selections are decent reading some are up to the level of Rick Bass' piece and Annie Proulx's The Bunchgrass Edge of the World, some are not. Lorrie Moore's two pages of HA HA's nearly put me off what is really a pretty good story, although she makes it tough to buy into the second thread with the abrupt change.I thought Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies one of the best stories in this edition. Even without those lost sixty-two pages, the rest is worth the price of the tradepaper edition.
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am 30. Dezember 1999
As a novel reader, I always look forward to this series because these are the some of the only short stories I invest in all year. This collection was a disappointment. As some reviewers have noted, there is a mixture of mediocre writers with brilliant ones, an up and down ride at best. There are few surprises or stretches of imagination, esp. from the B writers who tend to sound like grad students with contrived, workshopped pieces. Also, I am very tired of first person narratives, another tendancy of beginning writers. Maybe next year we'll see clear, distinct voices and risky writing throughout, not just from the handful of expert storytellers featured here.
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am 2. Januar 2000
Personally, I think Amy Tan is a fantastic author and I loved her introduction. However, I am probably in the minority in that I did not enjoy the Rick Bass story at all. It seemed to me that that story was attempting to shove the author's intentions of what the story was about down my throat. But hey, that's just my opinion. I loved "The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars" and "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter", but didn't think such stories as "Kansas" should have been included. It's not such a bad collection and it's interesting to read the vast array of short stories.
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am 14. Januar 2000
This was the first BASS edition that I have read and I really enjoyed it. Maybe the fact that I enjoy Amy Tan as a writer made me appreciate the types of stories that she selected for this edition. I especially liked the stories by Rick Bass (it seems like almost everyone's favorite) and Annie Proulx. My favorite was Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter for it's look at cultural and generational differences in families. I have started reading the 1997 edition which is good, but it lacks the diversity and range of experience that this edition has.
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am 16. November 1999
I have to disagree with the other reviewers. Okay, there are a few duds -- but there are every year. This is a very good collection, and anyone who says that it is not does not like literary fiction. This is a surprisingly well rounded story-based collection, perhaps a bit slow moving, but rich and rewarding. Nathan Englander's allegorical story "The Tumblers" is worth the price of admission alone. And then there are excellent stories by Rick Bass, Annie Proulx, Hester Kaplan, Tim Gautreaux and others.
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am 27. Dezember 1999
This is by far the dullest collection of the usually high-caliber Best American Short Story Collection. There are so many "bad" stories here, one wonders what Ms. Tan was thinking. However, the Rick bass story and one by Nathan Englander prevent the collection from being what seems to be an almost complete Junior Varsity element to the collection....next year get a better editor, because boredom should not be a prerequisite for storytelling.
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am 5. Januar 2000
This book was bought as something to read while traveling. For this it is excellent and worthwhile as I have read some of the stories several times. Being a person who likes to compare different styles and authors this book was a refreshing break from the "A" class writers. The stories made you think and reflect on what is being said as much as the symbolism of the words.
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