International bestselling author Stephen King takes the stage with a different kind of performance: instead of being the creator and writer, he is the director, selected as the editor for the 2007 edition of the ever popular Best American Short Stories series. But don’t pick this book up expecting to find blood and gore, or a sense of horror and a feeling of terror that you are more used to when reading the editor’s own work; in this collection, King has selected works he finds most fascinating; the stories that “make his blood curdle” but in an emotional and moving way, as opposed to a terrified one. Nevertheless, this collection has something to offer everyone, with twenty unique stories that were selected and deemed the best during the year 2006 by Stephen King and Best American Series ongoing editor, Heidi Pitlor.
King kicks off the collection with his own entertaining introduction, as he sets the scene for his discovering these special stories: bending down, ass in the air, going through the dusty and ignored journals shelf of a big-chain bookstore in Florida, and then making his way to the surprised cashier with this mighty pile of rarely bought materials. While it is humorous, King is making the clear point here that short stories are in some ways a dying art, for they are not being read by many, and in most cases, simply by other writers. And yet it is a crucial stepping stone for many aspiring writers. King sets out to show to the reader that while there were a lot of mediocre and not so good stories published in 2006, there were also some great ones, appearing in this collection, showing that the art of writing short stories is still alive and well.
The 2007 collection features stories by well known authors like John Barth, T. C. Boyle, Alice Munro and Richard Russo, to name a few. Here there are stories about everything, satisfying every reader’s taste in some way, whether it be “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” which is exactly what it sounds like; to an enchanting and memorable Lolitaesque story about an Olympic swimmer and a young girl with Polio who have a love affair set with the backdrop of the 1918 flu epidemic in Lauren Groff’s “L DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story”; to “My Brother Eli” by Joseph Epstein featuring a famous writer who can never accept that he has done what he set out to achieve; to the wonderfully haunting “Sans Farine” by Jim Shepard, where the history and invention of the guillotine is revealed in gruesome detail while the French Revolution spirals out of control.
The beauty of a short story collection such as this is that with so much good material, if one is not immediately satisfied, one can just skip to the next story; and by the same token one can also slowly read and savor each story as much as they want. Stephen King has certainly shown that he has some interesting and appreciative reading habits, proving his job as a good editor for today’s short stories. The Best American Short Stories 2007 is an ideal gift for anyone who has read all of Stephen King and wants something different, or simply loves to read books for what they are: an escape from reality into a world of the fantastic.
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Originally written on November 24th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.