Review: The Best American Short Stories 2015

Edited by T.C. Boyle and Heidi Pitlor
Review by Kristin D. Urban-Watson
Issue No. 10 – December 2015

T.C. Boyle is this year’s The Best American Short Stories . Boyle is certainly a worthy choice, as he is the author of ten collections of short stories, and of fifteen novels. Selecting stories from both American and Canadian publications, The Best American Short Stories is made-up of twenty hand-picked works of fiction. As Boyle notes in his introduction, many of the stories he picked have a powerful narrative, even if the story itself falls flat.

As a whole, the 2015 release continues the series’ strong reputation, featuring good, and sometimes brilliant, literature, although not every piece is deserving to be considered “the best.” If you know Boyle, you won’t be surprised that the overall tone of this one-hundredth edition of Best American is full of dark, and oftentimes, brooding (and long) short stories.

Despite this, there are a few that have a comedic voice, as in “Unsafe At Any Speed” by Laura Lee Smith, which tells the story of a suffocating husband and father. Then there is Louise Erdrich’s “The Big Cat,” which is a light read about snoring.

Of the few stories that end on a positive note, Kevin Canty’s “Happy Endings” tells how widower and lonely father might find solace and a new perspective on life after venturing into a massage parlor.

In “Mr. Voice,” Tanya, a grown woman, reflects on a transitory stage of her childhood. Written by Jess Walter, the author of several novels, the story largely focuses on her once-damaged relationship with her mother. “Mr. Voice” has an organic development, and is one of the few stories within the anthology that contain a positive, even hopeful, message.

“Madame Lazarus,” by Maile Meloy, is one of the gems of this year’s collection. Boyle calls it “the most moving story” of this edition, and it certainly earns this claim. Simply stated, it is the story of a retired man and his little dog, the growth of their love and care the two have for each other. The story is littered with passages that are relatable to anyone who has had a beloved pet: “I struggle to my feet and pick her up, ignoring the people who stare…I can feel her heart beating against my arm. We take the tiny elevator—I have no strength for the stairs. In the faded bronze mirror, I have never looked so old.” Maile Meloy is the author of two novels and numerous short stories, and it is obvious from “Madame Lazarus” that she is an author worth following.

If you aren’t a voracious magazine reader, and aren’t sure on which authors you should follow, The Best American Short Stories is always a safe starting point. And while the 2015 edition has some mediocre pieces in it, there are also a handful of stories that will make you forget where you are, and engross you.

The Best American Short Stories 2015
Edited by T.C. Boyle and Heidi Pitlor
Best American
416 pages, $8.50

Kristin D. Urban-Watson is a writer, art teacher, book reviewer, and yoga enthusiast. She enjoys good books, nature walks, and spending time with her black lab.

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