Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rebecca Lee's Bobcat and Other some of my other favorite short story collections.

These are some of my favorite short stories collections from recent years.  If I say that each one is a "great collection" and that the stories are "jewels," it's because they are great collections and stories can be quite jewel-like if you think about it, plus sometimes I just give up on thinking of new ways of saying things (But then, don't we all? I'm looking at you, book reviewer who says every book is "luminous.")

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
This collection of stories is absolutely stunning and the author Rebecca Lee is one to watch. I love discovering new writers who amaze me-- with each story, each new glimmer of writerly talent, there is a delicious anticipation of the long, wonderful writing career ahead of her (and the reading career ahead of me).

Many of her stories take place in and around college campuses-- from college students to professors to a young child taken to see a professor of child psychology at the local university who teaches her to go to "Slatland" when troubles face her, that is, float about herself and see her experience as a dot on the line of her life. (Not bad advice!)

The stories are excellent--nuanced without being New Yorker-style opaque. The story "Min" is the strongest among a strong collection. When I finished reading it, I felt like a had witnessed something almost magical.

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
This story collection truly impressed me with its depth and breadth—Black writes with equal clarity and heart of a blind teenaged girl, an aging portrait artist, estranged parents, widowers, and lonely-hearts. She gives the small things in life the same weight and depth other writers would reserve for monumental events, knowing that every life is different and valuable.

Each story is deeply personal and authentic. The title story is excellent and very moving (though each story left me quite breathless).

Death is Not an Option by Suzanna Rivecca
So this is how I feel about short story collections: it is not easy for an author to sell a short story collection to a publisher. To me that means the ones that squeak through have got to be good. Death is Not An Option is one of those good ones. Rivecca writes with honesty and depth about victims and saviors, about how nothing is as simple as it seems, about how religion and the moral high ground can't always fix everything.

Compelling, memorable stories about women and girls, our struggles, joys, and idiosyncrasies.   

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman 
This is a lovely collection of short stories by a bright new Vermont writer. Many of her stories are about intersections in the lives of women—what would you do if _____ happened? You discover your husband had an affair and then realize you might not actually love him after all? You find yourself pregnant with a man whose life goal is to preach the selfishness of breeding? Bergman’s characters are women who find themselves uncomfortably perched on the boundary between two different lives. The next choice they make will define everything for them. Her writing is simply exquisite. Each story is a jewel. Get in on the ground floor with Ms. Bergman. Her future first novel will be just stunning, I guarantee it!

Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle 
Great collection of stories from the author of The God of Animals. Kyle creates fully-formed worlds in her stories—you’ll feel connected to her characters and immersed in their lives, and you’ll keep thinking about them after they’re gone.

Some strange things happen in these stories (sex in the break room of a chain bookstore, sisters who impersonate each other to get out of therapy, pirate dinner theater), but each story is genuine. Even the ones that end without firm conclusions are satisfying. 

Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elisa Schappell
This is a totally awesome collection of connected short stories by Vanity Fair columnist (she writes the Hot Type column!) and Tin House magazine co-founder Elisa Schappell.

Most likely, if you are a girl you will get these stories. Were you unsure of who you were in high school? Did you date the wrong person? Did you go to college? Did you maybe make a few mistakes? Are all your friends having babies? Do you have a weird relationship with your mom?

The writing is lovely and sharp and clever and sad and beautiful. Give short stories a shot. They are difficult to write, so if they get published, you know they're good. That's my theory anyway.

Wild Punch by Creston Lea

These are gritty and honest stories about the back roads and small towns of rural New Hampshire. Lea’s characters are lonely, desperate, and restless. They’ve stayed behind when others have left, and that fact has left an indelible mark. Though these characters are desperate, they are not alone. Friendship and loyalty are themes that run throughout.

“Indian Summer Sunday” is one of the best stories. The character is remarkably thoughtful and introspective as he drives dirt roads the morning after a late night bender. Only at the end of the story do we realize who he is and the  significance of his early morning drive. These subtle, quiet stories are powerfully concentrated, intense but not overwhelming.

Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill
This is a beautiful collection of short stories from a gifted writer. From dispossessed young women to victims of war to the broken-hearted, this collection covers the landscape of modern life. Gaitskill varies her stories in a way that is unique and satisfying—some are realistic, some resemble fairy tales or myths. All are subtle and sophisticated.

Take special note of the title story—a lonely woman’s attempt to adopt a child from Ethiopia. It is honest and heartbreaking. “The Little Boy” is also fantastic, about an older woman and the connection she makes with a little boy in an airport and the memories it brings back to her.

Alone With You by Marisa Silver
This is an excellent, elegant collection of short stories from an award-winning author. Her stories are subtle yet powerful, taking on parenthood, childhood, and the transience and loneliness of modern life.

Silver has a knack for taking a story we’ve heard before, a daughter takes her mother to a clinic to treat an illness that is slowly erasing her, and shifts them just slightly, into something not quite right, something tragic and inexplicable. In the mother-daughter story “Night Train to Frankfurt” the mother and daughter are going to a clinic which will boil the mother’s blood, promising to heal her. Silver’s characters are trying desperately to not be lost. These stories will stay with you.