Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best American Stories: 1998--Last Few Stories

 photo: front cover, from its Amazon page

All right, everyone, it's been a long while since I posted my review of the stories in this anthology.  I've been sidetracked by various and sundry issues, but here's the concluding blog entry about these stories.  Overall I found this book extremely worthwhile, so track it down and read it.  Follow my critiques as a guide once you have the book, if you wish.  If you have any thoughts about these, or any other works of these authors, please feel free to comment.

The Two Ladies of Rose Cottage by Peter Robinson

Interesting and well-written, sort of a cross between Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Tolkien's Hobbit's land.   And Rose Cottage will always remind me of the hut in Eyam, England, within which so many members of one family died of the Plague.  (I've written an entry about that here.)  There's a little bit of Fried Green Tomatoes, too.  There's a wonderful little mystery involving the two ladies of the title, and some bones found buried in the garden of the former home of one of them, and an abusive husband, and small-town secrets.  And a nice little subtext about death itself, too.  And getting old.  A good read, and pleasantly bittersweet, if you like that kind of thing.  But we do grow old, and things do die away, much as we do.

Twelve Days out of Traction by Dave Shaw

Written in a purposely terse style, too aware of itself for my taste, but anyone who throws in a jab at Newt Gingrich can't be that bad.  The narrator runs injury scams, the kind of guy who slips on a wet floor of a store and sues the owner.  Just okay, not much of a story, really, and written like yeah, okay, whatever.  Not really sure why this one made the cut into this anthology.  Shaw must have pictures.

The Power of Suggestion by Helen Tucker

In this one, a man's normally-boring Holly Homemaker Housewife starts having ESP and devours such books about it.  She "sees" him cheating on her in a hotel, though she's gullible, so believes his lies about it.  Or does she?  A very Ellery Queen kind of story, which is where it was published, like in the old Alfred Hitchcock magazine days.  You know, there's a cheating husband who works too much during the day and even more at night, but not with his wife.  She's supposedly the innocent homemaker, but you know she knows she's being wronged.  Since you know the guy's going to get it, you start thinking how, and this one was then easy to figure out.  Reading it was like watching yourself mentally connect the dots, and then watching yourself being right.  You can see it as a half-hour episode of the Hitchcock TV show as you're reading it.

Take It Away by Donald E. Westlake

Disappointing story from a well-known writer of the genre, who's been writing for over forty years, it seems.  (I have some old paperbacks of his from the fifties.)  Anyway, this one is a forehead-slapper, as it is not conceivable that a member of the FBI would be this dumb.  He and his team on a stakeout use an unsafe walkie-talkie channel; he's in line at a fake Burger King, talking to a guy who's very obviously playing him in the conversation, referring to stakeouts, and his job, and a million other things, and the narrator gets a bad feeling but doesn't do anything about it.  And before you can say The Usual Suspects, the guy in line is of course the guy they were staking out, and the attractive woman in front of him was of course the person the guy in line (a smuggler of paintings) needed to exchange info. with.  And she's holding papers she won't let the FBI guy look at over her shoulder!  Simply not believable, and one of those stories where you want to strangle the narrator, and then the author who shoved him upon us.  A very heavy disappointment, where clearly Westlake's name alone opened the door to this Best of...anthology for him.

The Rest of Her Life by Steve Yarborough

Very effective story about a murder of a young girl's mother, but in fact the murder is the last thing this story is about.  Love, and falling out of love.  Men and women, and relationships.  How and why relationships fail and end.  Lying, and the acceptance of those lies.  Getting old; losing life's fire.  Some quick-changing POV is never a distraction, but is often a revelation.  A juror twenty years later talks again to the girl, it's a flash-forward that takes one sentence.  There are flashbacks, as well, and some back and forth, but if you're paying attention, they're not a problem and can be, as I said, a revelation in the way of this world, of how time works, and of how life and justice often look the other way.  The ending might be a little more subtle than it needs to be, but by then the despair of the writing has forecasted the ending a bit, and it really doesn't matter anyway.  You'll need a shot of whiskey, or something, after the end of this one.  But read it anyway.


  1. Good of you to suggest the shot of whiskey - though three out of the five sound more like you need the whole bottle. I'm pretty sure my crappy library had this book - will have to see if it's still there.

    1. I was going to offer to swap the book with you, but then remembered it's only a penny on Amazon. Not that I recommend buying books like this, especially if one of mine gets published...