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Eclectic collection

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K. KUNHIKRISHNAN

The stories vary widely in genre, style, tone and substance.

The Best American Short Stories 2005, edited by Michael Chabon, series editor Katrina Kenison, Houghton Mifflin, $14. AMONG short fiction anthologies, The Best American Short Stories stands as the finest and the most eclectic annual selection, culled from over a thousand publications in the United States and Canada. After the initial selection by the series editor, the final choice is made by a reputed writer and the current selection (2005) was done by a master of the craft, Michael Chabon. He declares that he reads and writes for entertainment and that he has selected stories that "delight and boil down to entertainment and its suave henchman, pleasure".

Different concerns

The 20 stories in the collection vary widely in genre, style, tone and substance. They appeared in 13 different publications, among which The New Yorker tops with six, followed by The Harper's Magazine with two. Almost all the writers who feature in the volume are well-known and have been featured in the past. The new ones include the Hyderabad-born Rishi Reddy, who was practising environmental law in Boston before she took up serious writing. Like Chitra Banerji Divakaruni and Jhumpa Lahiri, whose stories have featured in past volumes, she too takes up the problem of the old parent who goes to live with the offspring in the United States, grappling with the cross-cultural experiences. "Justice Shiva Ram Murthy" (published in Harvard Review) is from her collection Karma and Other Stories. The problems of upper middleclass Indians in alien societies form the predominant theme and speaks volumes about the tribulations of isolation in old age. The way language has been rendered is a definite innovation in style.Despite all the happenings in Afghanistan, other than the brilliant novel, Kite Runners by Khaled Hosseini, the chilling events there have not found favour in English fiction. "Death Defier", by Tom Bissell describes the terrible effects of war. It is about a journalist for whom the emotional trauma of war becomes unbearable. The moving story, "A Taste of Dust", by Lynn Sharon Schwartz, is about a middle-aged lady meeting her former husband and his family long after a bitter divorce. Both want to recall the nostalgic past with emotional yearning but are not able to do so openly. Both of them are remorseful and sympathetic to each other. The tenderness of the relationship, the regret for the past and the feeling of closeness to each other despite their peculiar predicament makes for good reading.

Vibrant form

The loneliness of an old woman, trying to connect with someone, told in a moving manner through letters is the theme of the story, "Cousins" by Joyce Carol Oates. In a similar vein, Nathaniel Bellows in "First Four Measures", brings out two versions of loneliness from two different perspectives. It is about the friendship between a young boy and his elderly house sitter.Tim Pratt's "Hart and Boot" is a literary recreation of Pearl Hart, "the robber queen" who took part in the last stagecoach robbery in the U.S. in 1898. Pearl's life of crime and exploits and her mysterious pregnancy have been powerfully narrated in the story. J. Robert Lennon's "Eight Pieces for the Left Hand" is in itself a collection of eight stories joined by a strand of narration.All the stories in the collection represent the vibrant form of short fiction and diverse forms of craft, technique and themes. Life in its entirety and complexity and cultural nuances come out very sharply and all the stories in the volume testify to the dynamism and the universality of short fiction.


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