I like short stories, and so I am a habitual reader of the annual Best Short Stories collections, which are edited by Heidi Pitlor and a guest editor.
This series often leads me to the discovery of new writers whose work I enjoy. It was the 2007 edition (guest-edited by Stephen King) that introduced me to the work of the late William Gay (1941~2012). I went on to read all of of Gay’s published books after that. The 2007 collection collection also features John Barth’s memorable tale on age and mortality, “Toga Party”.
But we’re talking about the 2019 collection, guest-edited by Anthony Doerr. I listened to the audio version of the book. (I went through several stories while I was mowing my lawn and my dad’s lawn, in fact.)
This collection is very much a mixed bag. Some of these stories are (in my estimation, at least), pointlessly depressing, navel-gazing stories, while some are actually quite good.
There are two well-known names in the collection: Jeffry Eugenides and Ursula K. LeGuin. I did not like either of their offerings. No big surprise in either case: I enjoyed Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot; but Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides both left me cold. And Ursula K. LeGuin’s work has never been to my taste.
That said, there are a handful of genuinely good stories in this collection—or stories that held my attention, anyway. These included Weike Wang’s “Omakase,”, Alexis Schaitkin’s “Natural Disasters”, Mona Simpson’s “Wrong Object”, and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Audition”.
Don’t let my very mixed assessment of this very mixed collection dissuade you from giving it a try, if short stories are your thing. Any anthology containing work from different authors is going to be, by definition, uneven and punctuated with many ups and downs. While I did not like all the stories in this book, the good ones more than offset the ones that weren’t to my taste.