Having been introduced to the short story in grammar school English textbooks, I remember being thrilled by tales like “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury. These terrific reads, chock full of wonder and reversals and even bits of terror, compelled me to turn each page as quickly as I could digest it and instilled in me a love of books.
Unfortunately for me, I have found short stories to be rather dull and introverted lately. I mostly read them in The New Yorker and find myself putting off the duty of it until the end.
What happened to the days of not being able to put a book down? Is that only for supermarket paperbacks and unwashed masses?
When I found out that King was chosen to edit The Best American Short Stories 2007, I thought surely he would share my distress. Indeed, in his introduction, King writes about exactly my dilemma over modern short fiction: “these stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open.”
Feeling optimistic, I read the new collection. Four stories out of 20 really grabbed me. Not a horrendous average but not great either.
So, I heartily recommend works by Lauren Groff, Mary Gordon, Joseph Epstein and Bruce McAllister. As for the rest, I have to say, I’m slightly disappointed in Mr. King.
The Best American Short Stories 2007 is currently available.