The best American short stories 2007

by Stephen King

Paper Book, 2007

Status

Available

Publication

Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007.

Description

A compilation of twenty American short stories originally published in magazines and periodicals issued between January 2003 and January 2004, selected for inclusion by guest editor Lorrie Moore.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ElizaJane
An interesting collection of short stories by different authors with no common theme. The stories range from the mundane to the strange, from love stories to death stories. For me the best stories in the collection were in the first half of the book leaving the second half very underwhelming for me. None of the stories stick out as being absolutely fabulous but there are some that were very good. Overall, a decent collection of stories most suited to the literary reader. Follows are my brief synopses of each story (with no spoilers) with my thoughts.

1. Pa's Darling by Louis Auchincloss - set in the sixties, a woman reflects on how her larger than life father overshadowed her life. Readable, but didn't really do anything for me.

2. Toga Party by John Barth - This story takes place in an affluent gated retirement community and centers around one aged couple who are invited by the new people on the street to their toga-themed housewarming party. I really enjoyed this. The characterization of this seventy-something couple was wonderful and I found it to be a fast-paced read with a startling climax. I would be interested in reading more by Barth.

#3. Solid Wood by Ann Beattie - An elderly man and his sister have dinner with the recent widow of his best friend. There are some undercurrents that come to light for the reader as the dinner progresses. I didn't enjoy this one at all. It basically had no plot and, frankly, was boring. There is more to the story than appears at first but I prefer to read and think "wow, that was good" rather than "hmm, I wonder what this means".

#4. Balto by T.C. Boyle - A man and his 12-year-old daughter are on their way to court. This story recounts the events that lead up to the trial. The plot is more involved but any further description would contain spoilers. I was eager to read this story as Boyle is on my list of authors I'd like to read one day and this was my first sampling of his. I wasn't disappointed. This was a compelling story with a fast-paced read. I loved this one.

#5. Riding the Doghouse by Randy Devita - An eerie, disquieting story of father and son. A man remembers back to the year he was twelve and accompanied his trucker father for a week in the summer. The uneasiness in this story slowly builds and I really enjoyed it.

#6. My Brother Eli by Joseph Epstein - A man's younger brother (in his seventies) commits suicide and the older brother tells the story of his life. He was a famous writer, self-centered, egotistical, married five times with various children the brother has never met. The author contemplates whether an 'artist' is entitled to special rights and should be excluded from normal, decent behaviour because of their 'gift'. This story was longer than the others in this collection I've read so far and by far the best up to this point. It made me wish for a whole novel about these characters.

#7. Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You? by William Gay - I can't give a plot summary of this because I haven't a clue. I don't know what it was about or what it meant and what's with all the dialogue and no quotation marks? Ugh.

#8. Eleanor's Music by Mary Gordon - This was beautifully written and a haunting story. Eleanor is 51 and though she was married once she has lived with her parents for the last 18 years. They lead a lovely, simple old-fashioned life. Even their language to each other is quaint, as if from another generation. At first I felt nostalgic for their life and thought it was beautiful but slowly an uneasiness arises as we realize Eleanor's life is not what it seems on the surface. Then something drastic happens to her whole conception of her life and what she does and doesn't do after that event leaves this as a haunting tale.

#9. L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story by Lauren Groff - The title calls this a love story and it is that but it is also a tragedy of epic proportions. When I finished reading this my first thought was a stunned, "Wow." Set in 1918 this is the tragic love story of a former Olympic medalist swimmer and a young woman stricken with polio. The best story in this collection so far.

#10. Wake by Beverly Jensen - An interesting story of family dynamics. A brother and sister accompany their father's coffin as they bring him home for his funeral.

#11. Wait by Roy Kesey - Not impressed with this one at all. A bunch of people wait in an airport terminal as their flight is delayed over and over again.

#12 Findings & Impressions by Stellar Kim - I quickly realized this story was about someone dying of cancer so I skipped it as I don't read about that topic.

#13 Allegiance by Aryn Kyle - Glynnis and her parents have recently moved to America from England and she finds herself in the position of new girl at school. An unpopular girl has made moves to befriend her but Glynnis must choose between being unpopular also or making the right moves to become one of the popular crowd. There also is an unraveling story of why the parents moved to America and why the mother is so embittered.

#14 The Boy in Zaquitos by Bruce McAllister - A man gives a talk to a class about how he used to work for the government spreading deadly diseases in other countries. Strange.

#15 - Dimension by Alice Munro - skipped. This was an Andrea Yates type of story, only the father was the murderer, and that's not a spoiler.
#16 - The Bris by Eileen Pollack - skipped. A dying parent story.

#17 - St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. This is one of my favourite stories in the collection. Young werewolves are sent to the 'Home' to be raised by nuns and taught to behave like their human side and forget their wolf side.

#18 - Horeseman by Richard Russo - A University professor grapples with what her life has become over what she could have become.

#19 - Sans Farine by Jim Shepard - This concerns the man who was the executioner at the time of the French Revolution. The men in his family had been executioners for seven generations, only now he is facing problems as his wife does not agree with the royal executions. Just ok.

#20 - Do Something by Kate Walbert - Basically this was just a depressing story of a woman whose son died of leukemia and she has turned to making protest demonstrations on her own.
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LibraryThing member crk-slc
What's great about an anthology of short stories is if you don't like one of the stories, you just read the next one. For the most part, I enjoyed this book; if I like more than 75% of the stories, then it rates as a good collection of literature.
LibraryThing member cefeick
Don't be fooled. This book isn't authored, but edited, by Stephen King. I picked it up on whim at the library, thinking, "Wow, it's been a long time since I read a short story collection."

Some of these stories are great. Others, a little too deep for me. I'd still recommend it if you haven't read any short fiction lately. It can move you just as much as a novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member sturlington
I have never been a big fan of the short story. I like to immerse myself in a world, really get to know and love the characters of a story, and read a complete narrative–beginning, middle and end. For me, this can only happen satisfactorily in novel form. In fact, I prefer longer novels, and I am not daunted by books weighing in at 500 pages or more.

I wanted the collection Best American Short Stories 2007 to add to my Stephen King collection (King was the guest editor). But since it represents the best of contemporary short story writing, I thought I’d challenge myself and see if I could find something to like about the short story in reading it.

A short story is only really long enough to do one of two things well: explore a single character or detail a single incident. In doing so, a good story will reveal a truth about the human condition. Both types of stories are presented in this collection. I prefer the incident stories, which seem to be more about something than the character-driven ones.

But even though I recognized that the writing overall was very good and all the stories were engaging, I still failed to connect with many of them on any more than an appreciative level. At the end of the story, I usually found myself asking, “So what?” These stories seem so fraught with meaning, so important, and yet so little happens. The meaning is subtle and hidden, requiring a more patient or insightful reader than me to dig it out.

I realize this is not necessarily the fault of the writer, but I am not going to blame the reader either. The short story is just not a form of literary conversation that engages me. My husband, an avid reader of short stories, would disagree with me, but isn’t it wonderful that there are all sorts of books and stories available to us, and both of us can find something to satisfy?

I will note the exception that proves the rule. One story out of the entire selection of the year’s best spoke to me very strongly. It’s also the story with the best title: “Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?” by William Gay. I responded to it because it made vivid an emotional state I have never personally felt but that I could understand and experience just by experiencing this story. I also liked it because it is one of the darkest stories in the book. Runners-up were “Balto” by T.C. Boyle and “Allegiance” by Aryn Kyle.

But overall, reading this collection only served to convince me that the short story is just not for me. And that’s okay.
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LibraryThing member Condorena
As a great reader of short stories I was anxious to try this volume edited by Stephen King. Since I don't tend to read a book such as this in one sitting I have been perusing it for a few years. There are stories from wonderful authors like T.C. Boyle, Louis Auchincloss, Ron Kesey and Alice Munro.

My favorite story was by Jim Shepard entitled Sans Farine which means with outflour. It chronicles the lives of the royal and later state executioners. These men and their families had a somewhat inherited occupation and were restricted in many the ways they could live their lives. They were in a way pariahs with no way to rise out of their caste.

During the Reign of Terror this job had many ramifications affecting their personal and professional lives. The history in this story was fascinating.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I absolutely loved this collection of stories. Except for Karen Russell's story St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised by Wolves (which I had to apply a Mini Pearl Rule too and jump ship at page 3 - just terrible - but I don't really "get" her stories, or the alien-esque people that inhabit them, despite some interesting writing/talent - but others love her, and the media/writing community clearly does - so don't mind me), these stories were all outstanding. Each one made me either think, laugh, wonder or just have moment of pause about life, in some capacity or another. Some are a little dark, some are quite funny, some are a mixture of those things. Also, having never before read a "best of" type short story collection, I truly enjoyed the process, how [Stephen King] picked the stories (with co-editor Heider Pitlor), the life and struggle of "the short story," where they first were published and mostly, the bios of the authors (all of whom describe their impetus for the story selected). So I learned about some new writers I never, ever would have known about otherwise. Some of the standouts, even among such a wonderful collection, I thought, were: "My Brother Eli" by Jospeh Epstein, "Balto" by T.C. Boyle, "Wake" by Beverly Jensen and "Findings & Impressions" by Kim Stellar. Highly recommended for any short fiction lover, or anyone wanting to explore new literary territory.… (more)
LibraryThing member librarybrandy
Stephen King is not the kind of guy who will do anything half-assed, and his selections for this year's BASS collection are no exceptions. Unlike most editors, he didn't just go through the pile the series editor forwarded him--he bought and read nearly every short-story periodical that exists, and read far and wide from them. As a result, the anthology he put together includes an impressive variety of stories, from the French revolution to futuristic military plague-carriers to a road trip through a snowstorm toward a funeral. What the stories have in common, though, is the heart--each story has a voice and a point, an emotional impact that's been lacking in much of my other recent reading.

Each story is also marked by King's aversion to brevity, but there were only one or two I felt were running long. This is an improvement over some recent years' BASS collections.
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LibraryThing member JFBallenger
I have to admit I was more than a little surprised to see Stephen King as the guest editor of this edition of the august Best American Short Stories series. Both the short story form and the high artistic ambitions of the stories typically included seem to be at odds with the sort of mega-popularity of Stephen King's genre-bound novels. I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the very high quality of the stories chosen. This I think is one of the best editions of the series to appear in recent years.

All of the stories in this collection were commendable in some way, and most of them were very dark in tone -- reflecting Mr. King's tastes no doubt. Every reader will have their own personal favorites. Here are the ones that stand out for me as particularly excellent:

"Toga Party," John Barth -- this story just perfectly captures the feeling of declining empire in contemporary American culture.
"Balto", T.C. Boyle -- one of the most unique and engaging treatments of the problem of courage and personal integrity I've read.
"Riding the Doghouse", Randy DeVita -- one of the creepiest stories I've ever read.
"Wait", Roy Kesey -- terrific evocation of the surreal nature of the modern world
"Findings & Impressions," Stellar Kim -- absolutely wrenching exploration of grief and the fear of illness, but so beautifully and sensitively done that you cannot turn away.
"Dimension," Alice Munro -- another great story from Munro -- this one almost impossible healing and redemption from the worst kind of violence and violation. astonishing.
"The Bris," Eileen Pollack -- absorbing and entertaining exploration of honesty, deceit and filial obligation. Closest thing to light in this collection.
"Do Something," Kate Walbert -- this story deals with the sense of helplessness and futility in contemporary culture and politics. As with Barth's "Toga Party," a surprising willingness by King to choose stories w/ overt if complex and subtle political themes.
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