I have been eager to write about this book for days, but I held back until I finished it. The 2006 edition of New Stories from the South is the twenty-first in a series that Maggie of Maggie Reads tells me is a staple in Southern libraries. It includes twenty stories selected from U.S. magazines and literary journals by this year's editor Allan Gurganus. Some of the short story authors are well known, while others are young and working their first novels or story collections. I enjoyed most of the stories and now have some new authors to try.
I am going to risk making a broad statement that can be debated.
Short stories are to popular novels like independent and foreign films are to Hollywood movies.
Of course, the statement does not totally hold up, as short stories are shorter than novels, while films can be as long as movies, but I think the appeals are similar. Short stories often seem more inventive and daring than the novels you would find on best sellers lists. They are more intense and thought-provoking. I also think they are often more memorable.
The first story in New Stories from the South is one of my favorites from the collection. In "Yard Art" by Tony Earley, the former wife of a country singer calls a middle-aged plumber into her large and empty mansion to fix the toilet. Living in Nashville all his life, he has wanted to break into music, but he has never gotten past open mike bars. Among the few things still in the house after her husband took the furniture is a statue by deceased local artist William Edmondson. The wildly expensive piece was "the straw that broke the camel's back" in her marriage. The plumber thinks he knows where to find another rare piece by the sculptor.
The collection includes a really sweet story by Wendell Berry called "Mike," in which a man remembers his father's hunting dog. Of course, it is more about the father than the dog.
One of the most intense stories is "Tired Heart" by Keith Lee Morris, in which a cross-country move in a U-haul turns very strange.
"Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" by Kevin Wilson reminded me of the film Dear Wendy without the guns. There are young people without a sense direction literally going underground.
I found the story "Brief Encounters with Che Guevera" by Ben Fountain, which I read in a collection by the author earlier this year.
The book ends with "Jubilation, Florida" by N. M. Kelly, in which an act of infidelity ends very strangely.
Appended to the book is a list of all the stories in the previous twenty volumes in the series. There are many great authors in the list. Public libraries everywhere should have these books.
New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2006. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 2006. ISBN 1565125312