Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King
Every Man for Himself edited by Nancy E. Mercado (but all the stories are written by men)
When teachers assign short story reading to their students, many of the students just pick any collection of short works off the shelf and read the first story in the book. I imagine that doesn’t hurt anything—students have been exposed to some good fiction in this way—but there are some really good stories available in the library that you might want to check out. I recently read two collections that I really enjoyed.
This summer I read “Best American Short Stories 2007” which was edited by Stephen King. This is one in a series of yearly collections that have a different guest editor each year. So the taste of the editor influences the choices somewhat. King says he likes action, but I found his choices good for thought, too. My favorite story was “Findings and Impressions” by Stellar Kim, narrated by a radiologist who diagnoses a woman with breast cancer after examining her mammogram images. I know it sounds like a weird premise, but it is this unusual take that makes the story the good. The woman isn’t a person to the radiologist in the beginning—he doesn’t know her. She is only a diagnosed cancer. But he does get to know her, to like her, and is afraid for his son to become too close to her because he is sure the woman is going to die—and his son has already experienced the death of his own mother. It’s sad and full of compassion at the same time. A really different story is “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” St. Lucy’s is like the homes for ‘wayward’ (pregnant) girls back in the day. But in this home, girls who are human children of werewolves are being civilized. Very creative! For those who like lots of action, “The Boy from Zaquitos” is about a guy who is trained to be a germ warfare assassin. He has special implants in his teeth that he cracks open and emits plagues, silently killing thousands. “Wait” is a story of international air passengers who end up stranded in an airport somewhere in African (I don’t think the story indicates where) and the whole group starts enacting the world political situation. A metaphor for current life. The 2008 version is on order for our library!
“Every Man for Himself” is meant to appeal to guys, but I liked it a lot. I had to get past the cover art though—two urinals on a tiled bathroom wall, one lower for a small boy, one higher for an adult man. Clearly, the stories are about growing up, but—maybe because I’m not a guy—I thought the cover was a little gross. Stories I remember best are “Shockers” about a boy whose girlfriend is only dating him (a sort of goth kid) to shock her parents. But the boy has lost his own father and makes a connection with her dad. Another I liked was a little mini graphic novel “Strange Powers,” a story of how love changes a guy’s perception of the world. In a story called “Princes” a boy challenges his parents, letting them know he is gay by insisting that he be allowed to bring a male date to his brother’s bar mitzvah. It’s really a story about courage and the connection between the two brothers. My favorite of the group was Walter Dean Myers’ story “The Prom Prize” in which a pretty popular guy allows his friends to have a lottery to choose his prom date. The boy is an African American athlete. The winning girl is white. Everyone has something to say about the date, what should or shouldn’t happen between the couple—everyone in the school thinks it’s their business and the results are pretty funny. All the stories have a pretty good sense of the trials of being a guy. I hope you’ll read them.