'tis the season ...

... for year-end lists of favorites. Like Christmas-shopping itself, the damned things crop up earlier and earlier each year. But do you ever hear anyone express sympathy for the poor book reviewers who have to start earlier every year, like all those store clerks struggling to put up snowy decorations in August? Noooooo.

So to plunge in, late but polar-bear-like, it must first be noted what a remarkable year this has been for short-story collections. I'm not even the kind of reviewer, I confess, who keeps up with lots of short-story writers, checking out every new writing-school grad who appears in Zoetrope. So my judgment on this may be completely misplaced. But for someone like me to be struck by one short-story collection after another must say something about the year's literary output. Thomas McGuane's Gallatin Canyon. Edward P. Jones' All Aunt Hagar's Children. Cristina Henriquez' debut, Come Together, Fall Apart

But these three were my faves: Some Fun by Antonya Nelson, a master of the sardonic but sympathetic story. Her drily observed work maintains an impressively high quality in this collection about self-destructive teens and troubled young women wrestling with the ghosts of their fathers.

Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg: If a short-story collection is on a best-of list, it's often this one, and deservedly so. A telling sign, for me: Ms. Eisenberg has stories here that do things I didn't think a short story could do, like combining melancholy, Chekhovian insights with catastrophic events and pop-culture ironies. Over at bookslut, Alexa has disparaged Ms. Eisenberg (and Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore) for writing about "so many women who seem to lack fulfilling relationships entirely, to see love as resignation, to survive in such an unvarying state, rejecting and accepting familial relations" -- and that this accounts for all the acclaim (and sales) the three receive: They depict women as glum losers. Alexa's basic argument comes close to saying that Ms. Eisenberg needs to create more uplifting female role models because these characters are too "nihilistic," too filled with "world-weary exhaustion."

Stripped of the crude, moralizing feminism, the same charges were made against Chekhov.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain. Graham Greene re-born -- with a deadpan sense of humor (and empathy) for naive Americans (a golf pro, a UN inspector) misunderstanding the political violence in Third World countries that they've often helped trigger. An impressive debut collection.

And while critics have hailed this as The Year of the Graphic Novel Memoir, I must put in a plug, not for Alison Bechdel's deeply poignant Fun Home, but for Eddie Campbell's playful and exasperating The Fate of the Artist, in which the author, who has disappeared, hires a troupe of amateur actors to recreate silly scenes from his wretched family life. It's an autobiography of Tristam Shandy-ian complexity, delicate collages and wicked comic-strip humor.

December 3, 2006 9:13 AM |



Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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